Cadillac’s Identity Crisis

Cadillac’s Identity Crisis: When Branding Won’t Die

by Melanie Warner

No one can dispute the power of the Cadillac brand. Its identity is so strong that it lingers in our cultural consciousness — and that’s precisely the problem.

First, Cadillac couldn’t shake the decades-old association with drivers “between the age of 80 and deceased,” as former Chrysler CEO Lee Iacocca said. Then a half a dozen years ago, the brand acquired new status among the hip-hop crowd, which enthroned the $60,000 Cadillac Escalade as the ride of choice.

It’s not that General Motors hasn’t been trying to change Cadillac’s image and broaden the cars’ appeal. The embattled company spent $81 million in the first half of 2009 on advertising, much of that going to an ad campaign featuring the sleek and sophisticated-looking CTS sport wagon. In a bid for younger audiences, Grey’s Anatomy star Kate Walsh sits behind the wheel and asks, “When you turn your car on, does it return the favor?”

Even so, marketing experts say the slick campaign hasn’t given the Cadillac brand the center of gravity it needs. GM acknowledged as much recently when it dumped Modernista, the ad agency behind the campaign, from the Cadillac account and embarked on a search for a new firm. GM will hear pitches from three agency candidates in January.

Meanwhile, 2009 sales through October are down 44 percent from the prior year. Rival luxury brands such as Lexus, BMW, and Mercedes saw their sales drop as well, but not nearly as much as Caddy’s. Lexus, the worst of the group, was off 34 percent.

So what’s the problem? Caddy’s current cars get great reviews, but they’re not moving off the lots. With that in mind, BNET asked four marketing experts what GM should do to make Cadillac the “Cadillac of cars.”

Steal a Page from Apple’s Marketing Playbook

David Murphy, co-president, director of brand innovation at Barrie D’Rozario Murphy

Relative to the other luxury automotive brands, Cadillac lacks that solid foundation that explains what it is. If you buy a BMW, people might guess it’s because you like precise performance. If you bought a Lexus, it’s because you like high value on top of perfect quality. For Mercedes, it’s engineering. A Honda or Toyota is dependability. The luxury brands in particular need to know what they stand for. I think Cadillac should stand for technology.

Cars are riddled with technology, but you’d be hard pressed to identify a brand that’s become the Apple of this category. Doing this requires a mind shift. Instead of boasting about brawn or horsepower, it’s about brain power. Cadillac needs to position its brand as being smart and having technology that actually helps you. It’s taking something that others have and rallying your flag around it — things like lane departure control and blind zone alert. But it’s not about whiz-bang gizmos for the sake of whiz-bang gizmos. It’s about using technology to create an image of being forward-looking, smart, and efficient.

I would exploit the fact that a designer is now running the brand. We live in a very design-savvy age. Bryan Nesbitt is a fresh face, and GM should use him extensively in PR and maybe even advertising. I think he could pull it off.

— David Murphy, co-president, director of brand innovation at Barrie D’Rozario Murphy

Go After Prime-Time Women

Marti Barletta, marketing to women expert, CEO of The TrendSight Group

Since women buy 54 percent of all cars, that’s the audience Cadillac should be going after: prime-time women in their 50s and 60s who have a lot of money and are still driving themselves to work, usually senior vice presidents of companies. They’re past driving little kids around in the back. They’re sick of driving stupid minivans and SUVs. They want some fun. Cadillac started doing some of that fun-to-drive messaging in their ads with Kate Walsh from Grey’s Anatomy. I think that’s smart, but GM could and should be doing much more to target these prime-time women.

The way to reach them is not on blogs and social media and twittering. Some 90 percent of the tweets on Twitter come from 10 percent of the people and most of those people are 20-35. A lot of marketers think buying dual audience TV shows where a lot of women are watching along with men is close enough. It’s not close enough. The best way to reach older women is through women-specific media, like More magazine.

— Marti Barletta, marketing to women expert, CEO of The TrendSight Group

Make the Customer, Not the Car, the Star

Julie Roehm, marketing consultant, Backslash Meta; former senior VP of marketing communications at Wal-Mart

We used to say “the car is the star.” Well, that time has passed. The customers are the stars, and it’s the car that helps them express themselves, their values, their needs, and their desire to look good. The consumers that you want to be your brand disciples need to be shocked, surprised, and delighted into changing their minds. When they do, they’ll talk in person, online, via mobile, and more, and spread the word for you like a Twitter wildfire.

Tactically, this means Cadillac needs more efforts that are participatory and interactive, not one-way push messaging. It’s more digital marketing, more social marketing, and more mobile communications to create better experiences that engage with the consumer. You need to talk with the customer daily and be transparent, which is something car companies have never been good at. Instead of old-school media, such as TV ads using worn-out slogans, Cadillac should try something as simple as giving 10 influencers an XLR (a high-performance convertible) and an iPhone, something that allows the customer to talk and be excited about the product.

The other big thing that’s hurt Cadillac is that GM has been over-marketing GM. At a minimum, get GM’s CEO off the air. Consumers want a Caddy, not a GM.

— Julie Roehm, marketing consultant, Backslash Meta; former senior VP of marketing communications at Wal-Mart

Hire Buzz Aldrin as Pitch Man

Mark Stevens, author of Your Marketing Sucks, and CEO of MSCO

Cadillac has gone from being a comatose brand to having some vibrancy, which is a tremendous achievement. But that’s not necessarily a good thing. Because being in buzzland means zero. The only thing you really care about is being in cash land. And since Cadillac sales are down, that’s a big acid test of what’s going on. A lot of the progress that’s been made is an illusion. You look at the ads and they look good. The cars look good and there’s a certain dynamism in the design, but you always need to be able to look at the cul de sac, which is where cars get bought in America. If you put a Cadillac into an upscale, middle-American cul de sac, it’s like, ‘Why do they have that? What the hell is this Cadillac thing?’ You have to justify it, and I don’t want to justify my car purchase. Most cars are bought based on perception. Right now every Cadillac’s a Hummer.

— Mark Stevens, author of Your Marketing Sucks, and CEO of MSCO

5 responses to “Cadillac’s Identity Crisis

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