Companies are using Detroit as a brand to sell their products — here's how to do it right

The Detroit brand report card

To people the world over, the word "Detroit" elicits all kinds of ideas — of grit, authenticity, street cred, the Arsenal of Democracy, the manufacturing capital of Old America. In recent years, companies have latched onto Detroit as a brand to help sell their products. In 2014, there may very well be no better phrase to move units than "handcrafted in Detroit."

Media darlings since they started manufacturing their luxury watches in Detroit last year, Shinola has been forthcoming with the focus-group testing that led to their business model. Asked if they would rather buy a $5 pen from China or a $15 pen from Detroit, most people chose the Chinese pen, but enough were willing to shell out on something made in Detroit. Shinola isn't just selling watches — they're selling the story of bringing manufacturing back to Detroit, and people want to buy it.

But all things created in Detroit are not created equal. To help clear the matter, we came up with the Detroit brand report card, taking a look at several Detroit companies and measuring them against several criteria to see who was actually the most Detroit. Actually being located in Detroit proper certainly helps. (OK, we lose points on this one: the Detroit Metro Times has been headquartered in Ferndale since breaking from our former publisher in 2013.) Manufacturing or at least assembling products in Detroit is another good move.

There are other factors that should be considered as well. Does the company hire Detroiters? Can Detroiters actually afford their products? (Metro Times is free, so we feel like we get some points here.) How much time has the company been in the city? Do they contribute to the community in any way? The biggest red flag to look out for, though, may be the "Detroitsploitation" factor — if a company is spending too much time talking about how Detroit it is, it might be overcompensating for something.

Made In Detroit

Actually based in Detroit …… Needs Improvement

Actually manufactures its products in Detroit …… Unsatisfactory

Hires Detroiters …… Satisfactory

Affordability …… Outstanding

Time spent in Detroit …… Outstanding

Community involvement …… Outstanding

“Detroitsploitation” factor …… Satisfactory

Notes: Although Made In Detroit’s fabrics are not actually made in Detroit, their T-shirts are reasonably priced, and the Clarkston-based company has given to local charities, including a Wayne State scholarship fund. While their website does have a section called “Sh*t You Can’t Afford,” featuring objects like a $25,000 Big Boy statue emblazoned with the MID logo, Made In Detroit gets a satisfactory “Detroitsploitation” factor for longevity; it was founded in 1991 and bought by Kid Rock in 2005, before Detroit was in vogue.


Actually based in Detroit …… Satisfactory

Actually manufactures its products in Detroit …… Outstanding

Hires Detroiters …… Outstanding

Affordability …… Satisfactory

Time spent in Detroit …… Outstanding

Community involvement …… Outstanding

“Detroitsploitation” factor …… Outstanding

Notes: “What does a town that’s been to hell and back know about the finer things in life?” So asked the viral Eminem-starring 2011 Super Bowl commercial for the Chrysler 200, effectively kicking off the current trend of using post-economic collapse Detroit as a brand to sell luxury goods. The Chrysler 200 is the car manufacturer’s lowest-priced model, with a 2011 MSRP between $20k and $30k. While the company is headquartered in Auburn Hills, it has moved office workers downtown in recent years, and its Jeep plant is the only remaining auto factory left in Detroit proper.