Chrysler, The DSO, And The Super Bowl

There was a fascinating Super Bowl advertisement from Chrysler Group LLC. Although the ad was designed to see the new Chrysler 200, the ad’s star wasn’t the car, it was the literal city of Detroit; its perseverance, independence, and its strength among world class competitive markets…

It would be difficult to argue that the commercial isn’t well produced to the point where it is almost a mini-cinematic feature. But what’s worth noting is how prominent performing arts imagery can be found throughout the spot and the distinct lack of sports references.

Performing arts references:

  • A Gospel choir
  • The Fox Theater
  • A Rap artist

Sports references:

  • A Figure skater (and even that overlaps with performing arts more than not)

Otherwise, the imagery is includes everything from gritty industrial landscapes to iconic public sculptures. One of the commercial’s tag lines, “Luxury is as much about where it’s from as who it’s for” is a particularly interesting angle as it places value on “where and who” as much as “what.” It underscores the value of the people who made the city what it is.

That hard work and conviction and the know-how that runs generations deep in every last one of us <pause> that’s who we are. That’s our story.

It’s probably not the one you’ve been reading in the papers. The one being written by folks who have never even been here who don’t know what we’re capable of.

Chrysler projects an image that is a stark contrast from some of the messages about the city and its automaker driven economy coming out of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) labor dispute. Watch the ad below and weigh in with your thoughts and observations. Is Chrysler just injecting a PR placebo into a community that is really just down for the count, do they offer a vision that should be adopted by the DSO, or something else?

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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0 thoughts on “Chrysler, The DSO, And The Super Bowl

  1. I must admit I hadn’t tuned in to the prevalence of performing arts vs sports visual imagery in the commercial.

    In sports, much is said about winners and losers. Performing arts is about winners only (or should be, anyway).

  2. Drew,
    Excellent post. I saw that commercial and came to the same conclusion.

    Linear extrapolation of the future is what the DSO board is doing based on recent PAST events, all the while Detroit is improving and the auto industry is becoming profitable. Very profitable. I’m sure the cities’ billionaires could write a check and not even blink.

    The DSO board is using past economic trends as a mean-spirited tool to bust the players (read “union” if you like) much in the spirit of “Don’t let a good crisis go to waste” mentality of a certain Obama advisor.

    The problem is: That was yesterday’s news. If the auto makers were not so damn greedy they could bring auto manufacturing jobs back to the US, invest in their city and restore their orchestra.

    An orchestra is like a work of art. Over the years the insidious “balanced budget” idea has really taken root. Guess what? You SPEND money on art. You wouldn’t expect your Jackson Pollock hanging on your wall to pay you a dividend would you? The same thing is true with a symphony orchestra. You spend that money because art is what separates great civilizations from backward ones.

    DSO board-open your beady little eyes. You’ve got a Rembrandt hanging on your wall that you are putting a match to.

    God help you if you turn it to ashes.

  3. Drew, this may be an “inconvenient truth” but both GM and Chrysler (and Ford as well, for that matter) went through not one but several agonizing bouts of 30% cuts to get to where they are today.

    And those weren’t just salary cuts, but headcount reductions.

    • Undoubtedly! But one significant distinction in those cases as compared to the DSO labor dispute is they were presided over by an independent decision making apparatus (mainly, the Federal Government) that conducted a thorough analysis of the institution, implemented accountability, and then structured a plan for recovery. In short, it wasn’t restructured with the singular goal of finding where to make cuts but how to reach recovery. Granted, the underlying motivation of repaying debt had to be a large factor but that approach seems to be producing results.

      among the few facts we have about this dispute is no one seems to be disagreeing that substantial economic cuts need to be put into place immediately, it’s what happens afterward that becomes cloudy.

  4. I too noticed the arts angle in this commercial, which has more to do with what else we do here in Detroit. After all we are “The Motor City”, or as we like to call it “Motown”. Hence the reference to the gospel choir. Detroit has always been known for it’s cars and for it’s wonderful Motown music. Both of which have diminished over time. Eminem was the perfect choice to represent this idea. He continues to live here and is a great ambassador for our city. He has the talent and hard edge to mirror what Detroit has been through. Now we need to come up with something similar to stir that kind of emotion to help our DSO.

  5. Sbek – while your Jackson Pollock will not pay dividends, a performing artist will by turning around and spending on goods and services. Speaking of autoworkers, I’ve read several reliable economic pundits who stated that it wasn’t the laborers’ fault that their managements decided to produce unpopular cars. Yet, many of us are convinced that unions are by default evil. I’m really curious how this got to be the case, when any union contract also carries a management’s signature. Could it be that non all unions are bad, just like not all managements are bad? I read a commenter somewhere who blamed the DSO strike not on the musicians, but on their union. While I’m not a union member, I can’t imagine that 80+ people would strike just because their union told them to. Each one of them had to have weighed that grave, life-changing decision. It truly would be a last resort against an unyielding organization, as I feel DSO has proved itself to be.

  6. The arts? How in the world could you leave out all of the screen time the Diego Rivera mural at the DIA gets, or all of the sculpture and architecture? That mural is a national treasure and it needs to be discovered by more people, and it’s here. In OUR town.

    • To be fair, I did label my observations as performing arts references and did mention sculptures in general but you are absolutely correct in the graphic arts imagery that was included. I should have incorporated it to begin with so thank you for pointing it out in your comment.

  7. How nice it is to see a comment, in this case written by Mike Bielski, pointing out an omission, in his mind, of the Diego murals, and then to read a civil reply by Drew. This is also what we’re trying to save with NPR and PBS. No one got angry or offended. No name calling or other rude comments.

    More to the point, the commercial did so much to portray Detroit in a positive light. Interesting that DSO Inc. publicized it as well. Hopefully they will finally see the value of the orchestra to the city and state, and get the music back into Orchestra Hall soon.

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