In Bid to Go Global, Cadillac Shifts Advertising Dollars to Digital

Brand Doesn't Yet Have the Scale Abroad for TV to Make Sense

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As GM attempts to take the Cadillac brand global, its ad spending is going digital.

Cadillac has moved 25% of its marketing spending into digital platforms from 17% three years ago as it uses online advertising to build its global brand around its BMW-fighting ATS sedan, said Don Butler , VP-U.S. marketing for Cadillac, between sessions at the JD Power Automotive Marketing Summit in Las Vegas on Wednesday.

"We're using digital to do things we couldn't do 15 years ago in terms of establishing and our place and our voice" abroad, Mr. Butler said.

Cadillac and Chevrolet are the two brands GM wants to build on a global basis, but Cadillac faces an uphill battle. Mr. Butler told the audience at the auto-marketing summit that 95% of global luxury-car sales comprise cars made outside in the U.S. In the U.S., meanwhile, imports account for 80%.

But Mr. Butler believes digital media is giving Cadillac the opportunity to tell its story in markets where its market share makes buying TV ads inefficient. "Essentially everything we do in Europe is digital," he said. "We don't have the scale or the volume at this point to do broadcast; it doesn't make sense."

"This is not an easy task, but we do believe we have an opportunity to establish American luxury as a true distinctive choice in the global marketplace," Mr. Butler added.

The cornerstone of that effort is the Cadillac ATS and a series of videos, "Cadillac vs. The World", that debuted during the Olympics. The short films, Cadillac's attempt to explain the brand to a global audience, were shot in Patagonia, Morocco, Monaco and China and both cut into TV spots and distributed digitally.

That content will get a big boost from Microsoft's global launch of Windows 8, which will include Cadillac content embedded within the operating system on more than 60 different devices at launch, including PCs, laptops, tablets, phones and Microsoft's Xbox.

Mr. Butler said Cadillac is using advanced targeting technology to identify people likely to be in the market for a luxury car, serving ads across the web, for example, specifically to people who previously visited Cadillac's website.

The focus on digital is a far cry from the launch of the ATS early this year with a TV commercial in the Super Bowl. The "Go to Green Hell" spot, which showed the ATS screeching around Germany's infamous Nurburgring, became the most-watched during the Super Bowl, according to Kantar Media.

But GM very publicly pulled out of the big game last spring, with then-CMO Joel Ewanick telling The Wall Street Journal that the company appreciates the game's reach but "simply can't justify the expense" given a "significant increase in price."

Mr. Ewanick has since left GM, but Mr. Butler confirmed that Cadillac is still sitting the Super Bowl out. He declined to close the door, however, to big-game buys after that . "Not in 2013 and that 's all I'll say," he said.

Cadillac spent $249 million on advertising in the U.S. last year, according to Kantar Media and Ad Age DataCenter estimates.

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