Time Inc. Atones For Years Of Defaming Detroit With “Rebranding” Contest

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It will come as a shock to everyone to hear that someone thinks Detroit needs a rebrand. And by “everyone,” we mean “nobody at all.”

Time Inc. has kicked off “Selling Detroit,” which aims to “attract business and talent” to “America’s most struggling city” by identifying it as a creative mecca for young artists.

In an effort to include the citizens of Detroit in the rebrand, which involves ad agencies that call Detroit home, the publisher is holding a contest. On the CNNMoney, Fortune and Time websites, visitors will be able to vote for their favorite campaign. The winner will be announced in December at the city’s D Show awards.

It is, of course, naive to believe that an ad campaign can change the brand, let alone the fortunes, of Detroit. In fact, some of the initial submissions appear downright confused about how to approach the task. The Leo Burnett Agency entry features rock ‘n’ roll star Kid Rock. But Kid Rock’s image is predicated, in part, on being from troubled, hardscrabble Detroit. Hardly a reputation the rebrand would hope to perpetuate.[more]

And then there are the journalists. “The whole idea of the contest is that we believe in the renewal of the city,” said Mark Ford, president of the news group at Time Inc. However, many journalists have spent the last couple decades doing just the opposite – chronicling Detroit’s grim conditions for the rest of the world to witness. Writes one local reporter:

“Time magazine sent a 24-year-old guy to Detroit,” James Griffioen told me. “They wouldn’t let him rent a car, so he was dropped off in a cab downtown. He’s there for six hours and he’s supposed to write a feature article on Detroit. For Time.”

Clearly, the “Selling Detroit” initiative is aimed at those who have Detroit’s best interests at heart. This effort, however, can’t be accomplished by a single ad campaign; like all branding efforts, it must grow from the inside out. Which means local citizens need to sell themselves on the rebrand first. Time magazine will come later, and maybe in a rented car this time.

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