I have been thinking quite a bit about Detroit since Guardian journalist (and ex neighbour of mine when I lived in Fort Greene, Brooklyn) Gary Younge posted a Facebook link about the breath-takingingly beautiful and unbelievably sad photographs of Detroit by Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre.
I had never really thought of Detroit being a beautiful city but the photographs prompted me to look into the history of the city. Detroit was once the 4th largest city in the US, a emblem of American power, industry and commerce - hugely profitable, hugely powerful. And today, a city shell.
How did it happen? This was a city designed around one industry - the automotive industry. One industry with one set way of working - one end product, a linear production line and factories that got bigger and bigger and bigger. Technology flattened the world, consumer demand changed but the US motor companies fiddled around the edges of their industry without seemingly comprehending the magnitude of change. There's an apocryphal story of one of the motor execs going to DC to ask for money for a bail out. He travelled there on his private Lear jet and was then driven from the airport in an enormous stretch-limo and then couldn't understand why his pleas to help save his industry were falling on incredulous ears. They just did not get it.
Could Adland be the new Detroit? Big, bloated and top-heavy with a lack of real innovation baked in?
There's an article in the Huffington Post in which John Kao says :
The city needs a strategy, it needs a vision of how it can turn itself into a 21st century city, attractive to talent, with a critical mass of R&D and a revitalized approach to education, fresh thinking. It needs to go for the brass ring — incremental innovation will not save it — nor will the four casinos and other tourist amenities that have been put in to make the city a tourist destination. Only a fresh re-thinking of the strategy, the sources of future wealth and the willingness to make the investment of time, treasury and effort will see the city through.
So applicable to our industry.
One of the photographs that I have highlighted here is the Vanity Ballroom in downtown Detroit, such an apt name. As an industry we have to stop re-arranging the chairs in our Vanity Ballroom and start planning for fundamental and profound changes in communications landscape and in consumer demand.
Oh and buy the book on Amazon, it is wonderful.