"This is a category we have not been in, this is a category that BMW has owned for three decades. Many have come to this category and attempted to knock them off the throne, unsuccessfully so," Mr. Ewanick said in an interview in New York this week, referring to the BMW-3 series. "Our engineers took that and benchmarked that BMW and everything about it, and came back with a car we think is very competitive against the BMW. This is big-time. This is a significant moment for us."
The Cadillac ATS spots broke this morning on YouTube with a two-minute introductory video. The campaign, from Fallon , Minneapolis, will hit TV airways July 27, the opening night of the 2012 Summer Olympics from London, and run through the rest of the 17-day event with the first eight of a projected 40 ads and online video shorts.
Mr. Ewanick declined to say what GM will spend on the Cadillac ATS campaign, but said it was done "very efficiently" in partnership with Radical Media. Industry executives still speculated the campaign tab at around $10 million, given its scope.
Dubbed "Cadillac ATS vs. The World," the spots show the ATS in four distinct, demanding locales -- the incredibly winding, switchback roads of the Atlas Mountains in Morocco; the windswept Patagonia in Chile; the Grand Prix race course in Monaco; and the unique, three-quarter of a mile Guoliang Tunnel in China. Each challenge showcases aspects of the car's agility, driving performance and efficient design.
The campaign includes short films, ad spots and photography, directed by Academy Award-nominated documentary film maker Joe Berlinger, and Jeff Zwart, an acclaimed automotive expert. The driver in the spots is Derek Hill, a champion race driver and son of Phil Hill, the only American to win the World Driving Championship. American actor and filmmaker Ross Thomas hosts the series.
It's a different campaign for the brand, to say the least, devoid of the lingering "beauty shots" often associated with luxury-car spots.
Super Bowl debut
Ironically, the ATS made its debut with teaser ads during February's Super Bowl (which GM said it will abandon in 2013), and will have a heavy social-media component, including Facebook (where GM stopped using paid ads earlier this year).
"We have a very active fan base, and we started social last fall," Molly Peck, director of Cadillac advertising and sales promotion, said. "We worked mainly with the enthusiast crowd to get the buzz going. We took the car out on The Nurburgring and chronicled that journey. We had great, great engagement with those videos. That really helped grow our Facebook fan base [for Cadillac brand] by about 48%."
Ms. Peck said this was also the first time GM has used Path, the social network for the iPhone.
Cadillac has had poor sales this year with about 63,000 vehicles sold, down 17% from January through June compared to 2011. At the same time, Mercedes-Benz led the luxury market with 128,595 cars sold, followed by BMW's 126,504.
"We expected that ," Ms. Peck said, noting that Cadillac ceased production on its STS and DTS models this year. And that makes the ATS launch even more important to GM, which is why it picked the 17-day Olympics to "tell a story," as Mr. Ewanick put it.
"Here's a category we don't compete in, and our competition has. If it isn't the BMW, it's the Mercedes. Both of them do 175,000 units [annually] out of a 400,000-unit segment. We want our fair share of that ," he said. "This gives us an opportunity over 17 days to state our case."
Mr. Ewanick said GM was so focused on launching the ATS during the Olympics that it began two years ago protecting its sponsorship, buying up available commercial time on owned and operated stations associated with NBC Universal, which owns the broadcast rights to the Olympics.
"We went out to the top 20 markets and bought all the inventory . . . and at the time nobody put two-and-two together," he said. "We wanted to make sure we didn't get ambushed by Audi or Lexus or Mercedes-Benz. We wanted to make sure we locked that up."
Said Ms. Peck: "There's well over 100, 130 commercials for the Olympics. There's a lot of content there. This will end up in 30-minute documentaries, so we really are telling a story."
Will it all work?
"It's hard to get American consumers to recognize that American luxury products can be good," said automotive analyst Brandy Schaffels, senior editor of Truecar.com. "The ATS is a beautiful car. I'm partial to the new design of the Cadillacs. It's not an old person's car any more but it's hard to overcome that ."