Ad Review: How Dare They? Cadillac Greatly Overplays Message

Automaker Pitches Reinvention as Result of Striving to Achieve

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It's not easy being a Cadillac buyer these days. You have to change the world.

That's the takeaway from the beautifully shot, gritty new Cadillac campaign that highlights risk-takers such as Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, fashion designer Jason Wu and "Boyhood" director Richard Linklater. Set to a gorgeous melody sung by Edith Piaf, it shows very spare glimpses of the car as it motors down the streets of the brand's new home in New York. Superimposed are copy lines like "How dare a college dropout invent the personal computer?" and "How dare a fashion intern become an arbiter of style?"

Underpinning this gauzy effect is Cadillac's pitch of reinvention, celebrating those who strive to achieve greatness at the risk of failure. "Only those who dare," it says, "drive the world forward."

And I just wanted to buy a car.

Cadillac probably doesn't care for reviews, given its voice-over borrowing from a Theodore Roosevelt speech: "It's not the critic who counts." But I'll plunge on anyway.

With Roosevelt and print ads citing Herman Melville, the automaker is putting itself in some pretty heady company. It's a lot to live up to and the brand will need to answer its own grandiose question, "How dare a 112-year-old automaker reinvent itself?"

Future marketing is going to need a lot more than platitudes. It will have to explain what makes the brand as good as, or better than, CMO Uwe Ellinghaus' former employer BMW's ultimate driving machine, or Audi, whose buyers are "uncompromising."

Cadillac had to do something drastic. Its share has dropped well behind its peers and it's aiming to appeal to a consumer base that kicks the tires on corporate consciences. Cadillac wants to redefine luxury by recasting the conversation around status, much like American Express has. The reward, the theory goes, isn't in success, but in the journey.

"Optimism is one of the fundamental ideas this wonderful country was founded on," said Mr. Ellinghaus about the campaign.There's just one thing: You can't pay for a $45,000 CTS with optimism.

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