Honda's pulled its ad that used imagery from Detroit's bankruptcy. (Honda)
Detroit — An ad for Honda Civic is causing a kerfuffle because it used imagery from the city’s bankruptcy to sell the Japanese car.
The national television ad, “Today Is Pretty Great,” opened with a blues singer and images of bankruptcy and protesters outside federal court in Detroit. It then moved onto more joyful stuff — including the redesigned Civic coupe and Si coupe.
The commercial began airing Jan. 8. It obscured faces of protesters and the name of the court, but it was unmistakably the Theodore Levin U.S. Courthouse, where a judge is hearing arguments about the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history.
That upset many Detroiters and, late Friday, hours after detroitnews.com published a story about the controversy, Honda confirmed it is replacing the picketing images with more generic shots.
“The slight change we made to the commercial simply reflects our desire to remove anything that would get in the way our uplifting message,” the company’s Detroit-based spokesman, Steve Kinkade, wrote in an email.
“The original intent of the commercial obviously was not intended to represent Detroit or the challenges experienced by the city, its people or our industry.”
The turnabout came hours after a leader of the bankruptcy protests, the Rev. Charles Williams II, said the ad kicked Detroit while it was down.
“They’re using our pain for their pleasure to promote Japanese automobiles while we are suffering in part because of the decline of American automobiles from foreign automakers,” said Williams, president of the National Action Network’s Michigan chapter.
“It’s absolutely a slap in the face to use that in a commercial to promote a (company) that basically has hurt Detroit.”
Honda Motor Co. is multinational company that is based in Japan but makes cars in Ohio and other U.S. states. Late Friday, Williams said he appreciates Honda's change but the damage is done.
“It ran nationally for two weeks (with the protests),” Williams said. “Even if they don't want to admit it was about Detroit, it was another slight and they should definitely apologize.”
Mike Bernacchi, a University of Detroit Mercy marketing professor, said the references to Detroit’s bankruptcy are a “head scratcher.” If the commercial intends to be uplifting, it fails, he said.
“At the end of the day, the key question is: Why?” Bernacchi asked. “What is the message? Is it for the vehicle or is it a message for Detroit?”
“It’s a body punch to the lower region,” he added. “Who would be happy seeing this message? My question is, ‘Why it was made and what are the markets they hope to alienate?’ ”
Earlier Friday, Kinkade said the footage of Detroit was incidental.
“That could represent any courthouse in America,” Kinkade wrote in an email.
“We have operations and personnel in Detroit, so we very much want to play a role in the continued revival of the area,” he added.
He said the carmaker produced stock footage and rights fees for newsreel footage of the protest.
The 30-second commercial was produced by the ad agency RPA of California.
Calls to its spokespeople for comment weren’t returned Friday.