This site has long been distinguished in many ways by what it doesn’t cover. Our founder wouldn’t cover motorsports at all, though that policy has obviously been changed, for the better I might add. We don’t review the latest edition of Forza or other racing games and sims, and we’re not likely to run a post about the latest episode of Top Gear, in either the original British or the various colonial forms. Why talk about what everyone is talking about? Still, there’s a reason why you see ’69 Camaros at every car show. Things are popular because people like them. This video promoting Detroit’s bid to host ESPN’s 2014 X Games, produced by Detroit agency The Work Inc., featuring a Ford Fiesta ST rallycross car racing around downtown Detroit and Belle Isle, and doing donuts on the roof of Cobo Hall, has been making the rounds of the car blogs and not only is everyone raving about the video, the promo is doing it’s job.
Not only are the internet scribes posting about how “saaahweet” the video is, they’re saying, “The X Games in Detroit? Yeah, that works,” and getting behind the Detroit promoters‘ (Action Sports Detroit, backed by Dan Gilbert) efforts. So, it appears, are most of the folks commenting on those posts. In three days, the YouTube video had over 140,000 views. People seem to dig the idea of putting on the X Games and their attendant partying in the Motor City. Detroit is one of four finalist cities, along with Austin, Charlotte, and Chicago. Austin may be hip but Detroit is real, so real that it’s becoming hip. Just ask Fossil founder Tom Kartsotis, who is betting what I figure is at least $25 million making Detroit a prominent, foundational part of his revived Shinola brand.
In a way, it’s surprising that I like the video so much, since it includes footage of the old Michigan Central train station and the Packard plant, Detroit’s two signature ruins. I hate ruin porn and the editors, writers and photographers who promote that crap. Not so much because I don’t like my home town being reduced to two urban chancres, but because it’s incredibly lazy journalism to helicopter into Detroit and shoot pics of the train station and the ruins of Albert Kahn’s revolutionary Packard factory and then use them as “metaphors” for Detroit. The X-Games video, though, puts those ruins into context of a city that still lives, still has a beating heart. Rather than shrinking from the city’s grit, the video embraces it as part of the backdrop of life here.
Part, but not the whole. Detroit’s post apocalyptic landscape might belong in a fictional video game, and while it makes for it indeed makes a great backdrop for extreme sports, the video includes footage of a Ford Fiesta rallycross car racing between gleeming new office buildings downtown, as well as bombing down the trails on Belle Isle, an island park in the Detroit River, where there is still undeveloped land inside the city limits of a city that was founded over 300 years ago.
In addition to selling Detroit, the video speaks to the origins of the X Games and in doing so may appeal to X Games organizers. Scott Guglielmino, ESPN senior vice president for the X Games and programming, said: “We love their passion.” In many ways those games’ origins are urban. The Smoking Tire’s Zach Klapman eloquently points out that most of those “extreme” sports started with young people turning the city into their sporting arena:
Airing down an 11-stair in front of a city building, security guards probably scrambling to kick you out. Turning a crumbled building into a kicker. Locals pulling their own dirt bikes out and stunting down the highway. Donuts in a parking lot, drifting around municipal art. Just kicking around the city looking for obstacles, turning your environment into a playground. That’s where the X Games began. Before there were wooden BMW parks, before Gymkhana was a word, before double-backflips off perfect metal ramps, there were just people trying to have fun, using the world around them. It’s the soul of the X Games, and no place has soul like Motown.
Jesse Ford, of The Work Inc., founded in 2010 and headquartered in Detroit, told me their objective is to “to highlight real people in real environments” with their storytelling.
The Work has, ahem, worked with car makers before, mostly as a subcontractor to ad agencies with the big accounts. They produced some videos for Team Detroit, sponsored by Ford and have done the cinematography for Chevrolet videos and ads for the Corvette, Malibu, Impala and Silverado produced by the Goodby, Silverstein & Partners agency. With the positive buzz that the X Games promotional video is getting, Ford and Chevy might be well served to let The Work take control of an ad campaign or two all by themselves.
Along with ruin porn, another of my pet peeves is memorable advertising that doesn’t end up selling a lot of product. It seems to me that Cleo awards and post Super Bowl buzz are less important than, you know, actually selling stuff. People who like advertising, and I’m one of them, ooh and aah about “Somewhere west of Laramie”, but the truth is that the Jordan car company was out of business less than 10 years after that highly praised advertisement ran. The X Games promo is memorable, but not that kind of memorable, because it really sells the goods, it does its job. Appropriate for a creative group that’s called The Work.
Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS