GM revitalizes Cadillac by harnessing the '&'

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Marketer: General Motors Corp.
Agency: D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, Troy, Mich.
Rating: Three Stars

News flash: Cadillac is reinventing itself. Shedding its stodgy old image. Aiming to reverse declining sales. Determined to lower the age of its customer, who, on average, is dead.

Well, steady our wobbly knees. The GM luxury division hasn't forged such a bold plan for positive change since, like, the day before yesterday. Cadillac reinventing itself is approximately like Lamar Alexander announcing his plans for the presidency in 2004. It's happened before, and it hasn't gone very well.

On the other hand, this time we believe them. Circumstances seem to be arrayed in Cadillac's favor--i.e., the convergence of cutting-edge technology, breakthrough styling and a luxury-import market that seems as ill-prepared for a credible domestic contender as Cadillac 30 years ago was ill-prepared for the Germans.

The bloated line that once lost its market to a sensible European alternative is well-positioned to call the public's attention to the $100,000 price of German luxury and at long last return the favor.

Cadillac will sell about 190,000 cars in 1999. In five years, we believe, that number will double.

You read it here first.

This, of course, presumes no major blunders from the company that brought you the Cimmaron and "The Caddy that zigs," whose synthesis of American luxury and German engineering was expressed with a cartoon duck. In other words, that's a big if.

But we remain optimistic. By putting its state-of-the-art engine in the dramatic, faceted, sheet-metal previewed via the Evoq concept car, the company has shown at long last that it sees the truth: a coherent statement of Cadillac-ness must be reflected in every feature, of every model, unique and uncompromised.

Unfortunately, while the existing cars are quite sound, the actual Evoq styling is two years away. This means the company has to set the table and feed its public tasty appetizers for a long, long time before serving the main course. And that means the advertising must somehow generate excitement about the fairly near future without, by implication, diminishing the mere present.

Well, so far, so good.

"Its power creates night and day," begins the first branding TV spot from D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, to visuals of a stylized starry night, followed by a big ampersand hurtling toward the screen. Then we see fleeting images of a handsome young man, a veiled bride and elements of the American flag.

The power of Cadillac, the voice-over continues, "unifies man and woman, joins stars and stripes. It's called the power of and. With it, Cadillac is fusing design and technology, creating vehicles that will truly transport you."

Again we see the ampersand and more of the unfolding montage: Northstar System pistons, the distinctive Evoq front end, a Seville cornering, a night-vision image of a deer on the road and the familiar Cadillac grille.

"The power of and," the voice-over concludes, as the ampersand reappears. "The fusion of design and technology."

OK, it's a bit general, and the montage is somewhat confusing; we get barely a look at the current, quite handsome line of cars. But so what? Cadillac is finally, finally, finally articulating a vision for the brand. That is no small thing for a GM division that until very recently was selling leather-bound Chevrolets.

We particularly like the ampersand, which is capable of joining any number of subsequent pairings--luxury and value, for example. It's easy to say this spot has flaws. It's easier to see that this campaign has legs.

Copyright November 1999, Crain Communications Inc.

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