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Miss USA & The Ongoing Rebranding of Michigan

I have to admit I didn't think much of Michigan the first time I visited there. There is no shortage of not-so-great media coverage about the state and being a typical east coast kid, raised in the Washington DC area I never spent much time anywhere in the middle of the country. So when I started travelling to Detroit both for family reasons (my wife's family lives just across the border) and work reasons (Ford is a client of Ogilvy) it became my excuse to get to know the city better. I learned about the large Arab and Indian population living there. I saw another side to the city that went beyond the automotive museums and car-making heritage. And I experienced the intense pride that so many people living there share in a place that many people around the country just don't understand.


Over the last few years, Detroit and Michigan in particular have become a snapshot of America as it is today and as it struggles to become in the future. Politicians stumped there for votes in the Presidential election and President Obama still finds reason to make his way there. If there is a heart of America, at least one of the arteries would run through Michigan. On a much smaller scale, the state has found the spotlight in social media as well through events like BrandCamp University put on by a small group of entrepreneurs who believe that everything they do reflects on the outward perception of their home state. 

IMB_RimaFaqihMissUSA2010 Tonight Rima Fakih, Miss Michigan 2010 and a Lebanese-American won the crown of Miss USA and again gave Michigan a chance to brand itself as something more than the hometown of American cars. Individually, these random things may not seem that significant or grand … but when it comes to place that many people think they know, sometimes it takes an Arab-American beauty queen, a viral cross country drive, and a unique event to demonstrate that things are changing. There is a spotlight on innovation that is also helping to reinvent the role of entrepreneurship in the state.

Though many other states spend millions on tourism campaigns designed to change perceptions, the people of Michigan seem to be taking this task with energy, innovative ideas, and limited funding from any government source. Think what you may about Michigan's role in the global economy – but from a marketing point of view I would choose a group of people with passion over a short term marketing campaign any day. Though the state is certainly not reinvented yet, I suspect this won't be the last you'll hear about the rebranding of Michigan – or the ongoing daily things that "Michiganders" will be doing to help make it happen.

19 thoughts on “Miss USA & The Ongoing Rebranding of Michigan”

  1. Hi Rohit,

    I’m really happy to see someone talking about place and its importance in marketing. With all the hubbub about global, it’s easy to forget that we still do business in local, place-based settings. Detroit, and Michigan in general, are great examples! As you point out so well, Michigan now has a golden opportunity to do some rebranding and take a bold leap forward into the new era. Michigan’s state govt. should hire you to run their PR campaign. 🙂 Cheers, Bruce

  2. Coming from someone that was born in the Detroit area….after I moved away from Michigan…I realized it was a great place to be FROM. I would never want to live there again, but visiting family and friends brings me back for a week or so every few years. The state government there is horrible and they have ruined the state in many ways. The city of Detroit has been ruined by their politicians as well. Damn shame for once vibrant city.

  3. I need to reiterate my last post. The people of Michigan are the best. It is just the political elements that have ruined the city of Detroit and the state for the most part. I hope Michiganders clean up those offices so they can take their state back.

  4. Thanks for the positive feedback on Michigan.

    I love the culture but I agree with Kathy on the political bind we are in. If more people notice the entrepreneurial spirit that is starting here we can work on changing the way business is done here.

    So we are not trapped by the auto industry.

  5. Hi Rohit,

    Thanks for calling attention to some of the positive things happening in Michigan. We still have a long road ahead of us, but there are many grassroots efforts, local organizations and events/conferences (like BrandCamp and FutureMidwest) that are helping to move Michigan forward. With continued support from nonresidents like you, I’m confident we’ll break through the negative news clutter and prove Michigan is a great place to live, work and play.



  6. Hey Rohit,

    Thank you for sharing your perspective. It’s great to get constructive feedback from people not directly involved in what is happening here. It shows that the good things that people like Brandon and Hajj are building are making people turn their heads and pay attention.

    I believe if we keep it up and continue to build events like Brand Camp, Startup Weekend Detrout, Social Media club Detroit, and FutureMidwest; only good things will come out of it.

    Hope our paths cross again soon!

  7. Michigan may have hit hard times, but it still has a lot going for it – Great Lakes, diverse cultures in its urban areas and PASSIONATE PEOPLE. One of the coolest things to see is how many people are actually getting together to help push Michigan back to where it belongs.

    Those of us committed to righting the ship here in [Detroit] Michigan are not hung up on the political derision that is commonplace in just about any government. I know I feel as if I can make a difference without political backing, but I hope in time that positive change will begin to affect our public officials to truly viralize the work that is already taking place.

  8. There are a lot of people here in Detroit that are doing exactly what you’re talking about. We have always been a state of “doers” we are now rapidly becoming an area fueled by entrepreneurs and I think that is what will define us in the near future and help pull us out of the mess we’re in.

    I was at Brand Camp and enjoyed hearing you speak. Thank you for helping us put a little spotlight on the people and things that are working to make Michigan and Detroit a strong part of the country again.

  9. So true. The people of Detroit are among the most passionate, talented, and intelligent of anywhere I have ever been. Our infrastructure is in shambles and it’s going to take a lot of work from the people (not politicians) to make this city great again. Everything positive we can do in the city and for the city will bring better media coverage. Painting Detroit in a positive light will be what brings more investors and residents to the area. The more we can attract, the better the city will be. If you are a young person in Detroit or anywhere in Michigan and can’t stand to see it failing, then stand up. Do something about it. Get involved in the community. Get involved with networks and initiatives to help rebuild. Participate. If each of us contributes one idea, one hour of work, one dollar of our money towards rebuilding this once great state, amazing things will happen. And they will happen faster than you think.

    Thanks for writing this article Rohit.

  10. I think Michigan as a whole will recover. Although maybe not the manufacturing powerhouse it once was the face of Michigan will change, but it’s heart will always be American.

    And on that note, I don’t think it’s fair to refer to anyone, let alone Miss Michigan 2010 as any kind of hyphenated American. Hyphenated American’s are a fallacy. If you’re parents are from Lebanon and you were born here, you are an American. The minute your parents take the oath of citizenship and claim their rights as citizens, they too are Americans. The difference being they are American with Lebanese heritage.

    I’m not saying forget where you came from or don’t be proud of it. Far from it. I think it is the varied heritages of all our citizenry that make us great and strong. But at the heart of it all, when you go to bed at night, if you are a citizen of this country, you’re an American first and foremost, and everything else second. Same when you wake up. The same when you go to work.

    To call yourself or allow yourself to be called any kind of hyphenated American is to insult the citizenship you hold, which American soldiers have fought bravely and valiantly for, and it is an insult to the country you live in.

    So I am proud of Rima Fakih, as a Michigander, and an American (although that should go without saying). I am glad she won the Miss USA Pageant. But don’t slight her, or her accomplishments by making her half of what she is, by making her a hyphenated something. She is an American, a Michigander, and I am betting if you ask her, she’ll tell you she’s proud to be an American.

  11. Thanks, Rohit, for the positive recognition of the hard work we’re doing here in Michigan. As others have said, it’s great to see someone not from here give Michigan the credit deserves. We have a strong community of innovative, talented, and motivated people that constantly strive to improve our region.

    While we have our share of problems (and who doesn’t?), I believe we are in the midst of renaissance, and movements like FutureMidwest, BrandCampU, Social Media Club-Detroit,and StartUp Weekend are at the center of it.

  12. Thanks for all the great comments, I’m glad to help bring some attention to some of the great things that are happening in Detroit.

    @Jeff – I see your point, but I do disagree. No slight to Rima intended with that … but as someone who calls himself an Indian-American, I don’t personally feel that using the hyphenation makes me any less American either. It does, however, give people more context about my family background and where I am from (which most people like to know, whether they admit it or not). In all the articles and media about Rima that I have read, this is also an important part of who she is. I agree with you that this should not make anyone think less of her or see her as less American, and if it unintentionally does that for some people, then I appreciate you taking the time to call attention to it and encourage the discussion. After all, the only Americans who don’t have a hyphenated heritage from someplace else are the Native Americans.

  13. If I was a betting man….I would definitely put money on Detroit for the long-haul! From every interaction I have had with the city and its amazing community, I have every reason to think it is on the up and up…and rising quickly.

    Great post, it definitely correlates with my impressions of Detroit and its amazing and passionate people!

  14. Rohit, thank you for sharing your observations. I think you hit it on the nail when you wrote, “Think what you may about Michigan’s role in the global economy – but from a marketing point of view I would choose a group of people with passion over a short term marketing campaign any day.” I’m originally from Minnesota, but I’ve chosen Michigan as my home, and this is exactly why.

    As for the hyphenation, I appreciate that you used it. The identification clearly does matter to her community. She was born in Lebanon, and that is certainly a large part of her identity.

    Kudos on a fine post.

  15. Rohit, thank you for sharing your thoughts on Michigan. Your comments are great. I am part of the Indian population in SE Michigan (we have some common friends) and you are right that there are other identities to Michigan other than the auto industry. Dearborn is actually the largest Arabic population outside the Middle East. Michigan also has the greatest sports fans in the country and we pride ourselves in being loyal sports fans.

    After this year’s gubernatorial election in Michigan, I think you will start to see a lot of reinventing happening in Michigan so stay tuned.

    By the way, did you hear they are filming Harold & Kumar 3 in Michigan this summer?

  16. Way to go, Michigan! Keep up the good work. It is really in the best interest of all America for Michigan to reinvent itself and revive its economy. It is too much a part of the American story to just fall by the wayside.


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Rohit is the author of 10 books on trends, the future of business, building a more human brand with storytelling and how to create a more diverse and inclusive world.


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