My Life of What Ifs

Thursday, February 25, 2010


The goodbyes get easier, the ideas get fewer and the state of the advertising industry in Detroit just isn’t the same compared to other major advertising cities in the U.S.
Those in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago have experienced downsizing, years without raises and the decline of television ad dollars in favor of email pushes and viral ads. But none of those cities have felt the sting of the decline like the Motor City.

Motown advertising and its undeniable dependency on the Big 3 for billings spent the first decade of the 21st century on edge.

The end of the 20th century saw Ford move its national Lincoln and Mercury business from Young & Rubicam in Detroit to the Y&R offices in Irvine and San Francisco. Those that were willing to relocate could interview for their jobs positioned out West. If leaving Michigan wasn’t an option then they found themselves unemployed.

In 2001, DaimlerChrysler consolidated its advertising services to one agency. This movement gave birth to a new entity, briefly called Pentamark, and it marked the end of the Detroit chapter of Foote, Cone & Belding. While Pentamark was supposed to be a merger of FCB and BBDO, the foreign nature of the name left many vendors dazed and confused and before long BBDO Detroit had made a return.

Half way through the Decade of the Aughts Ford moved its Lincoln Mercury business back to Detroit and BBDO, with DaimlerChrysler’s help, began its descent from over 2000 employees to just over 400 before it closed its doors in January 2010.

Layoffs in masses, and the wildfire-like spreading of the news has taken its mental toll on Detroit and morale has gotten lower and lower. The tumultuous decade saw the Detroit office of D’Arcy change their name to Chemistri, and then to Leo Burnett. J. Walter Thompson, Young & Rubicam and Ogilvy & Mather, “Pentamarked” themselves into Team Detroit; and finally, the third owner of “Chrysler” decided that not one, not two, but four agencies would suffice to handle their national advertising, only one of which is in Detroit. The doing was undone, and redone, and so on, and so on.

The advertising industry, as shown in AMC’s hit series Mad Men, had its heyday, and it was worthy of every “remember when” it receives. But the decline of the U.S. economy and the greed of others have prompted the best to work for less, and the need for their expertise to become obsolete. The Creative Directors and Account Managers aren’t making the decisions and their ground breaking ideas are being ignored. The clients have taken over, and it doesn’t take a Harvard MBA to see how that’s working for them.

It’s sad. Unemployment is unbelievable in the Detroit ad community. If you’re on the creative side and you can’t leave the state, the jobs that are available won’t compare to what “you used to do”. But there’s still a longing, a longing for what used to be. For what once was, and there’s hope. Somewhere at an intersection between Auburn Hills, Dearborn and the Renaissance Center in downtown, there is a glimmer of Hope that someday they will all work together once again.

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