Cadillac Unveils New Brand Image on Oscars Night

'Dare Greatly' Theme Aims to Attract New Breed of Luxury Buyer

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Advertising Age Player

After dropping a few broad hints, Cadillac is finally taking the wraps off its new positioning on the Oscars tonight, carrying the theme "Dare greatly."

Since Uwe Ellinghaus took over as chief marketing officer for the General Motors' luxury line a little more than a year ago, the brand has made sweeping changes: ditching its logo; planning to move headquarters to New York City; and introducing a new naming system for its models with letters and numbers that are often used by European auto brands. Last December, Cadillac parked its nearly $300 million account at Publicis after the disbanding of Rogue, the Interpublic Group of Cos. alliance created to service the automaker.

The fruits of much of this labor will be seen first tonight as Cadillac seeks to lift sales that declined 6.5% in a market that rose 6% last year, according to Automotive News figures. The automaker had already posted an online video that foreshadowed the coming camapign.

The new push encompasses print, digital, social media and TV, including four spots on the Academy Awards. In the initial "Dare Greatly" commercial, there is no mention of luxury. The spot is set in New York City's Soho neighborhood and portrays people like Anne Wojcicki, an investment-analyst-turned- entrepreneur who co-founded personal genomics company 23andMe, and movie director Richard Linklater, whose movie "Boyhood" is nominated for six Oscars.

Cadillac said people like Ms. Wojcicki and Mr. Linklater represent the customers that the new marketing strategy is designed to target. Mr. Ellinghuas said Cadillac wants to attract buyers who are passionate, entrepreneurial, and unwilling to settle for an obvious choice.

"This is for people who simply dare great things. Whether they are old, young, female, or male does not matter," said Mr. Ellinghaus in an interview with Ad Age earlier this month. "And luxury is the word we are not communicating, because luxury brands never ever declare themselves luxury."

The campaign centers around President Theodore Roosevelt's statement that "even if you fail, at least you dare greatly," in an effort to indicate that the 113-year-old car and its buyers are bold, sophisticated and fans of reinvention.

There was a time when Cadillac symbolized the American dream, a status symbol and a coveted choice by movie stars like Elvis Presley. But Mr. Ellinghaus said that those images are obsolete, and the brand wants to avoid clich├ęs at a time when entrepreneurship is setting the standard of aspirational lifestyles in America.

"I think entrepreneurial mindsets are very American, as optimism is one of the fundamental ideas this wonderful country was founded on," he said. Mr. Ellinghaus is a former chief marketing officer at BMW, who said in an earlier interview the plan for Cadillac is not to "out-German the Germans."

"We also want people to dream about Cadillac, and we want to make an appeal that we are a very passionate brand," he said.

Cadillac Print Ad
Cadillac Print Ad

Cadillac's new headquarters will be housed in New York starting this spring, going against an industry trend that has seen brands such as Mercedes-Benz dumping its longtime headquarters in New Jersey in search of lower costs in Atlanta, Georgia.

Cadillac's marketing transformations underline the uphill image battle it faces from its German competitors such as Mercedes-Benz, Audi and BMW. According to Automotive News, Cadillac's share of luxury autos last year was 9.1%, well behind BMW's 18%, Mercedes' 17.5% and Lexus' 16.5%.

Yet Cadillac is seeing a bright spot in the U.S. with Escalade and generally in China, where Mr. Ellinghaus said sales jumped 47%.

The CMO said the campaign is geared towards Generations X and Y, important for Cadillac, whose average buyer age was 59.5 in 2013, according to an IHS Automotive report quoted by TheStreet.com.

Mr. Ellinghaus said that young people are less interested in technical details, so Cadillac will be more focused on advertising in lifestyle magazines rather than traditional automotive publications. He said the Cadillac's digital budget will also go up significantly.

He acknowledged that changes will take time -- maybe a lot of it. "Hopefully in 20 years we [will] sit here together and 'Dare Greatly' will [have] become, as I call it, the ultimate driving machine," a clear reference to BMW.