How Tommey Walker Turned Detroit Into A Movement

I’ve referred to Detroiters as masochists. We’ve seen our industries collapse bankrupting our city in the process, with widespread corruption inside our local government to boot. We’ve been a national punchline for Congressmen and comedians alike. Yet there’s a certain je ne sais quioi in terms of Detroit’s public image and designer turned entrepreneur Tommey Walker perspicaciously capitalized on the very undefinable elements that make his label DETROIT VS EVERYBODY one of the hottest national global clothing brands of the year.

So as marketers, what can we learn from Tommey Walker? Well for one, he created a movement that every company, from clothing goods to electronics and automobiles should be envious of. While putting on my best Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point hat, I’ll attempt to explain how celebrities from Ricky Ross to Stephen Colbert to Keith Urban brought national attention to a fledgling clothing company with a small storefront in the heart of Detroit.

The Three Laws For Creating a Tipping Point-Like Movement

Law 1. Invoke Intimacy Through The Law of the Few

When Walker decided to open a storefront in Greektown, a historic commercial and entertainment district in Detroit, he did so in a small space on the third floor of a mixed retail/commercial building. His actual location was nondescript in every sense of the way, where if patrons weren’t huddled in to find a shirt in their size, you’d probably think you were in the wrong location. The message on his apparel was so powerful, and resonated with so many Detroiters, that it created the equivalence of a hipster scavenger hunt. You weren’t going to find DETROIT VS. EVERYBODY hoodies in your suburban Urban Outfitters store.  No, you had to work to be a part of this inclusive movement. His customers didn’t mind however, and considered it a right of passage to joining the cause Tommey Walker had created.

Gladwell refers to this as “The Law of the Few”. About.com’s Ashley Crossman explains that “Gladwell argues that the success of any kind of social epidemic is heavily dependent on the involvement of people with a particular and rare set of social gifts. This is the Law of the Few.”

The three types of people who fit this description? They’re referred to as Mavens, Connectors, and Salesmen.

  • Mavens are individuals who spread influence by sharing their knowledge with friends and family. Their adoption of ideas and products are respected by peers as informed decisions and so those peers are highly likely to listen and adopt the same opinions.
  • Connectors know a lot of people. They gain their influence not through expertise, but by their position as highly connected to various social networks. These are popular individuals whom people cluster around and have a viral capacity to showcase and advocate new ideas, products, etc.
  • Salesmen are individuals who naturally possess the power of persuasion. They are naturally charismatic and their enthusiasm rubs off on those around them.

Mavens include Detroit Free Press editor Stephen Henderson, who joined Colbert on the air to defend Detroit, presenting him with mainstream America’s first look at a DETROIT VS. EVERYBODY hoodie to open their conversation. Walker has been quoted on record saying the hoodie on Colbert was a watershed moment for the brand, increasing sales significantly online thereafter.

Connectors include rappers Eminem and Big Sean who took the clothing label and brought it to the forefront of society’s conscience in their own unique way, including limited edition SHADY VS. EVERYBODY apparel.

Salesmen include the DJ’s, musicians, athletes, and local celebrities who turned a t-shirt slogan into a rallying cry.

Law 2. The Stickiness Factor

Gladwell refers to the stickiness factor as a unique quality that causes the phenomenon to “stick” in the minds of the public and influence their behavior. Taking the concept of the stickiness factor further, Dan and Chip Heath wrote an entire book on the concept called Made to Stick. In the book, the Heath brothers create an acronym that best defines how one creates a sticky idea:

  • Simple — find the core of any idea
  • Unexpected — grab people’s attention by surprising them
  • Concrete — make sure an idea can be grasped and remembered later
  • Credible — give an idea believability
  • Emotional — help people see the importance of an idea
  • Stories — empower people to use an idea through narrative

It goes without saying that Tommey Walker’s clothing label successfully indexes high on the stickiness factor.

Law 3. The Power Of Context

In previous interviews Walker mentioned that in his travels, he personally observed a lack of respect for Detroit. At one point in his life, he helped define Detroit rapper and fellow Cass Tech high school alumni Big Sean’s fashion style, only to see other musicians copy him without paying homage. The perpetual feeling of Detroit constantly having its back against the wall was easy to manifest into a mission statement. If I were to take a stab at it, I’d probably go with something like this:

By creating a brand that reinforces the spirit of Detroit: an attitude that conveys feelings of accomplishment, regardless of the objects that stand in the way of achieving one’s goals.

Gladwell refers to The Power of Context as the environment or historical moment in which the trend is introduced. If the context is not right, it is not likely that the tipping point will take place. When taking the bankruptcy, the political upheaval, the nation’s disparaging comments about the city and its people, there may have been no better time to turn a statement based on defiance into a national rallying cry.

What’s Next?

It’s a million dollar question. Walker’s sales continue to grow stronger, with recent expansions outside of his Greektown store, into the posh suburbs of Detroit. Tommey Walker is the type of entrepreneur Detroit rallies around. He has created a tipping point with DETROIT VS. EVERYBODY, developing a social purpose through The Power of Context, creating a social movement grounded in The Law of the Few, and embraced social outcomes through The Stickiness Factor of his messaging. It’s my opinion Walker is here to stay, and I can’t wait to see what he thinks of next.

In the meantime, you can count me in to represent my city:

Detroit Vs. Everybody

An Open Letter to Neal Pollack

Dear Neal,

According to your twitter bio, you describe yourself as an author of eight books, a yoga instructor, a roller-derby announcer, a reluctant car journalist, and three-time Jeopardy! champion. If your opinion piece on Yahoo was a category on the game show, you could take “Things You Shouldn’t Put In Your Mouth” for $500.

You’ve painted quite a picture in Detroit, Neal. One that borders on “When the cats away, the mice will play” and “Let them eat cake”.  I think it’s fair to say, neither of those are accurate in any sense what-so-ever.

Sure, you make a few valid points. Yes the ELR is excessive at a price point we all shook our heads at but you know what? The plebeian alternative Volt is kind of a bad ass car. As is the 100 mpg Fusion Energi and the 30 mpg Grand Cherokee equipped with the EcoDiesel.

Or how about a truck that just shed 700 lbs. and introduced mainstream America to the concept of lightweighting? Or a midsize SUV with a 9 speed transmission that gets over 31 mpg? Or a 460 HP sportscar that still achieves 29 highway?

Nope, apparently those didn’t count. Instead it feels like you’re asking us to bow down to the stoic shrine of Japan. Hey you know what? I like the Accord! I think the Prius was a catalyst that forced us Americans to think about fuel economy differently, but these are the same companies that make 13 city / 17 highway Sequoias and 12 city / 18 highway Nissan Armadas. They aren’t indemnified from criticism.

That must be why I saw their engineers crawling all over the new F-150 with open mouths this afternoon at the NAIAS Industry Preview. Had you stuck around after Kia stopped handing out bacon popcorn and MINI closed down its smoothie bar, you would have seen some eye opening dexterity that would have put VIA Motors special guest and aerial artist Maria Luna to shame.  Furthermore, I don’t think they were using their measuring tape, graphic note pads and cameras for fun. But who knows, I could be wrong. Perhaps it’s in the realm of possibility that the one gent I saw sticking his full arm in the wheel well of a Chrysler 200 misplaced his iPhone and was simply looking everywhere to recover it.

Look, I know I’m a tad over-sensitive on the topic of grinding the Big 3’s noses into the ground. I lived it for a few years on the front lines you know. I guess I’m sorry an out of town journalist used a national platform in a way that shuns the hard work this industry has put forth since its darkest days a mere five years ago. Yes there’s an awful lot to lampoon, but nobody would have imagined the innovations we’ve seen coming out of Detroit like we have today.

I think that’s worth celebrating.

Sincerely,

Craig Daitch

Join the conversation and follow me on twitter @craigdaitch

Chrysler Takes Its Place Amongst Superbowl XLV’s Best Ads With 3 Words

Three words.

Three, and one of them is considered a dirty one if you grew up where I did:

Imported From Detroit

Tonight, Detroit has a new rallying cry. A rallying cry that is as endemic and analogous as “Just Do It” is to Beaverton, Oregon. It’s been a long road for Chrysler over the last decade. From DaimlerChrysler to Cerberus, to Fiat – the DNA of one of America’s most cherished automotive brands was slowly slipping into the archives of U.S. history; a footnote in the ever evolving world of motor vehicles.

It started with the Jeep relaunch of the Grand Cherokee, with its Johnny Cash soundtrack, was an hors d’œuvre of American pride, a reminder that the greatest legacy of one of the most iconic American brands was safe in the hands of people who actually understood how to market a vehicle. Then came the Challenger commercials and I slowly started coming around to believing in the third of the Big 3 again.

I admit though I have had my doubts. Last year’s awkward politically charged Chrysler commercial demanding the release of Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi from imprisonment left many scratching their heads wondering if the powers that be from Fiat really understood the psyche of Americans. Ironically enough, the antithesis of this from Groupon could have learned a metric ton from this before approving their own Superbowl catastrophe.

But when I first heard that we were going to be subjected to a 2:00 commercial I cringed. I admit it. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine what I’d see tonight would have such a profound impact on me. I read tweets from proud Chrysler employee’s, to Detroiters admitting their tears. I received 8 phone calls starting a minute after the commercial ended from all area codes surrounding metro Detroit swelling with pride from what went on air, during the biggest stage, the Superbowl no less!

To my industry compatriots at Wieden, I thank you for this. I used to insist that an advertising agency not from Detroit would never get Detroit enough to create an effective brand story. I admit I was wrong because you told it better than any of us could have in a way that made me believe you “got us”. The diaspora of Detroit has left me in a mixture of both guilt and frustration for 5 years, unable to find a path back to my home. You gave me 2 minutes of my life back tonight. Again I thank you.

And to Chrysler? I offer you this advice: When the 300c rolled off the assembly line, it carried with it the momentum of an entire company and then you let it dissipate for years without updates or supporting non-halo vehicles – the Sebring being the main culprit and in my opinion the downfall of your brand. The 200 was a brilliant rebranding, as Ford’s rebranding of the 500 back to the Taurus equally reestablished them as relevant in the large sedan space. You need a midsize sedan to compete and stay relevant yourself and as far as vehicle refreshes go, you did it with the 200. With that said, the 200 is a good car that needed a hail mary pass in the endzone to be thrust into the consideration set of consumers. You’ve got the mojo from this commercial, now go get it.

Tonight Chrysler did in 2 minutes what 2 previous owners couldn’t do in 13 years. They made Chrysler relevant again. They made Detroit relevant again.

This is the Motor City, this is what we do.