A local ad agency's ode to Detroit resilience goes viral

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News

A Detroit ad agency's video highlighting the city's resilience in the face of yet another adversary — this time the coronavirus pandemic — has generated buzz with more than 500,000 views and attention from around the world.

Doner Detroit's video, "When the Motor Stops," pairs moving — and startling — video of empty downtown streets and landmarks, including Comerica Park and the Fox Theatre, while telling the story of a city that never gives up. Put together in just 48 hours, it was filmed by a Doner's director of content production who built a camera rig to fit in the passenger seat of his car.

And the response has been electric with media outlets from around the country picking it up, said Jimmy Kollin, Doner's executive vice president of business development and communications. It's been shared 8,400 times on Facebook and viewed 500,000 times as of Monday.

"Detroit knows how to pick itself up and somehow keep us all focused and motivated," said Kollin. "...But right now, as things seem scary and hopeless, we thought it was incumbent upon us to offer hope — and remind Detroiters of that fact and the strength we all have inside."

Donor CEO David DeMuth said he's proud of the team's resourcefulness in sending an important message.

"They used their creativity and resourcefulness to send a positive message and remind people that by staying inside, they’re doing the brave thing, the right thing," said DeMuth.

The video was the idea of one of Doner's brand strategist, Alex DeMuth. DeMuth noted that the agency couldn't make masks or ventilators that hospitals need, "but we can make content," said Kollin.

"So that’s what we did," he said, who noted that the video was made while all of Doner's employees are working from home.

The words were written by Doner's executive creative director Michael Stelmaszek, and even include a nod to Henry Ford. The voiceover is by copywriter Olivia Hill.

“We didn’t want this piece to wallow," said Stelmaszek. "We wanted it to have a defiance that felt like the city. This wasn’t happening to us; this was a choice for the greater good. All of us being the engine behind beating this thing.”

And while Stelmaszek borrowed a line from the Supremes to end the video, he hopes Diana, Florence and Mary will forgive him.

"The Supremes' lyric was a gift," he said. "Something or someone just put that in my head. The city has always taken such pride in its musical heritage, it had to be included in the script in some way... I only steal from the absolute best.”

As much as the video resonates with people, Kollin said the agency hopes Detroiters heed the message more than anything.

"#StaySafeDetroit and we will get through this together," said Kollin.