Stuart Elliot
The New York Times

It may not be the advertising version of “Mission: Impossible,” but it is certainly a challenging, if not daunting, task: produce a campaign to encourage young and creative people to consider Detroit as a place to live and work.

Cue the Lalo Schifrin theme music.

The effort, called Selling Detroit.

The initiative to help change what may be the most dire urban image in America is being sponsored by the Time Inc. unit of Time Warner as part of a yearlong project, Assignment Detroit, that involves reporters and editors from Essence, Fortune, Money, Sports Illustrated, Time and related Web sites.

Several advertising agencies with offices in the Detroit area were asked to develop campaigns; five agreed to take part. Their work is to appear in the Dec. 7 issue of Fortune, due Nov. 23, as well as on three Web sites:, and

Visitors to the Web sites will be able to vote, beginning today, for their favorite among the five campaigns. The winner is to be announced on Dec. 2, during an annual awards ceremony in Detroit known as the D Show.

“The whole idea of the contest is that we believe in the renewal of the city,” said Mark Ford, president for the news group at Time Inc. in New York. This is to be accomplished partly by people moving to Detroit with their businesses and creativity, and being there “for the long haul.”

To that end, the campaign will be “targeted more to the 18-to-34-year-old demographic,” he added.

“A lot of smart people are committed to bringing the city back,” he added, and “we’ll do our part.”

The campaigns from the agencies certainly try to appeal to the intended audience. They include elements like special Web sites, blogs, video clips and applications for cellphones.

“There is never a silver bullet to solve a problem, but every little thing you can do along the way can help,” said Matt Canzano, executive vice president and executive creative director at the Birmingham, Mich., office of McCann Erickson Worldwide, one of the five agencies.

“It’s a hard assignment,” Mr. Canzano said of the concept of making Detroit more appealing, “but not unlike the assignment” from the State of Michigan to promote tourism.

Despite remarks like “Who wants to take a vacation in Michigan?” he added, “people are sitting up and noticing” the campaign produced by his agency — part of the McCann Worldgroup unit of the Interpublic Group of Companies — that carries the theme “Pure Michigan” and uses the voice of the actor Tim Allen.

The centerpiece of the McCann Erickson contest entry is a proposed Web site that would be called “This city is built on creativity,” a print ad asserts, listing examples like Pewabic pottery, founded in Detroit in 1903; the Detroit Derby Girls, an all-female, amateur, flat-track roller derby league; and the Von Bondies, a rock band.

Similarly, a print ad from another Interpublic agency, Campbell-Ewald in Warren, features Ro Spit, a D.J. and an owner of a sneaker store, Burn Rubber. He declares: “Detroit is a blank canvas. You’ll find inspiration around every corner. ... What you do with it depends on you.” He also speaks in a video on a Web site (

The campaign “is a recruitment ad,” said Bill Ludwig, vice chairman and chief creative and strategic officer at Campbell-Ewald.

Although “I don’t think any other city has been hit harder by the economy,” he added, “kids who are coming here find it the land of opportunity” in fields like music and film.

The other agencies taking part in the contest are the Troy office of Leo Burnett, part of the Publicis Groupe, with a campaign starring a local celebrity, Kid Rock; Doner in Southfield, with a campaign likening those seeking opportunities in Detroit to the crew that joined the explorer Ernest Shackleton in his expedition to the Antarctic; and GlobalHue in Southfield, whose campaign includes fanciful postcards.

Among other agencies asked to participate was the Troy office of BBDO Worldwide, part of the Omnicom Group. But the office did not take part because of uncertainties over its fate, centered on the coming expiration of a contract with its client, the Chrysler Group. (The office is closing at the end of January, BBDO announced last week.)

Critics contend that a reason Detroit is in so much trouble is because its mainstay industry of automaking has stubbornly ignored ideas from outside sources. What, then, to make of the fact that the contest involves agencies only from the Detroit market?

“We haven’t really found the agencies to be insular,” Daniel Kile, a spokesman for Time, wrote in an e-mail message. “They’re the ones who get what the opportunity is there, and who have a stake in the area’s return to prominence.”


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