Ex-McDonald's CMO Deborah Wahl Takes Marketing Helm at Cadillac

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Deborah Wahl
Deborah Wahl Credit: Cadillac

Former McDonald's U.S. marketing chief Deborah Wahl is getting back into the auto business as Cadillac's global chief marketing officer. She replaces Uwe Ellinghaus, who left the General Motors-owned luxury brand on Dec. 31.

Wahl joined McDonald's in 2014 after serving as homebuilder Pulte Group's CMO starting in 2009. She left the fast-feeder early last year amid broader management changes. Wahl previously spent more than a decade in the automotive industry, including as CMO at Chrysler until her job was eliminated in a 2008 restructuring. She earlier worked in marketing at Toyota Motor Sales USA, Mazda North America and Ford Motor Co.

Wahl will be based at Cadillac's New York headquarters and report to Cadillac President Johan de Nysschen.

"Deborah's diverse experience, as well as her proven track record of building successful global brands, makes her a natural addition to our leadership team," de Nysschen said in a statement. "Cadillac has made incredible progress over the past several years in our long-term journey to regain our position as the pinnacle of premium luxury brands. Deborah's experience and strategic vision will build on that progress and help propel Cadillac forward during our next phase of global growth."

Cadillac's marketing under Ellinghaus was typified by ads that sought to connect the brand to big ideas and emotions under the "Dare Greatly" campaign. In some cases, vehicles took more of a supporting role in ads that starred up-and-coming entrepreneurs. The brand stuck with the campaign in its recent round of Oscars ads, but pivoted to a more lighthearted tone while giving its vehicles and services more of a starring role. The brand's lead creative agency is Publicis Groupe's Rokkan.

Cadillac recently has been propelled by strong growth in Asia. February volume was up 86 percent in China for February. Total global sales grew to 30,583 vehicles, up 42 percent from the same month last year, the brand reported Monday. U.S. sales grew 14 percent in February.

At McDonald's, Wahl helped the fast-feeder rebound from a prolonged U.S. sales slump. She led the team that marketed the 2015 debut of All Day Breakfast, and then led the selection and creation of a new dedicated creative agency for McDonald's U.S. business, Omnicom's We Are Unlimited, in 2016.

But in early 2017 Wahl was replaced amid organizational changes, including the departure of two other executives, following the promotion of Chris Kempczinski to president of McDonald's U.S. Wahl began the work that McDonald's has continued as it tries to be a more nimble, flexible marketer, not an easy task when working with franchisees and workers at 14,000 locations, and to do more "mass personalization" through owned media such as its mobile app.

After leaving McDonald's, Wahl joined the boards of Mediaocean and Groupon.

-- Contributing: Jessica Wohl

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