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You can't take brand awareness to the bank.

The auto companies love to talk about how awareness of their various nameplates is on the rise, but that higher level of awareness and even "intention to buy" numbers often don't translate into higher sales.

How come? One market researcher told Automotive News that the Cadillac Catera ads raised awareness among young buyers. "But raising awareness is one thing," she said. "Getting people to buy is another."

The problem is that other factors-such as competition, pricing, etc.-can upset the best laid plans of mice and men. And Catera continues to be saddled with Cadillac's fuddy-duddy image.

"The Catera is a fine product, but most maturing baby boomers still see Caddy as being a provider of stodgy products," another market researcher told AN.

So far, Catera's daffy ads starring a duck have missed their target audience. Catera has mainly attracted Cadillac and other GM shoppers.

Market consultant Jim Wangers contends Cadillac's large dealer network should be selling 60,000 Cateras this year. He believes the duck ads cheapened the car.

"This car is as good or better than anything out there," Mr. Wangers told Advertising Age's sister publication. "If they were serious about getting import intenders, they should have done some serious ads and stacked Catera up against the competition. To go after those kinds of buyers and do it whimsically was a mistake."

Now Cadillac says upcoming ads will downplay-but not jettison-the duck and zero in on Catera's features.

While the duck doesn't work for Catera as a unifying theme, I'm beginning to reassess my opinion that the crazy old guy Mr. K won't pave the way for Nissan sales.

I was critical of the Nissan corporate ads because I thought they were so totally bizarre they wouldn't sell anything. Now I understand they weren't designed to sell anything-Nissan at the time didn't have anything worth buying. They were intended to establish Mr. K as the silent spokesman for the Nissan brand.

Now that Nissan has something to sell-the newly designed Altima-Mr. K suddenly has some substance behind that goofy grin, and I submit that the Altima introduction is one of the most effective new-model introductions I've seen. In every ad, Mr. K flips open a paper that says, "Have you seen it?"

The great thing about Mr. K is that he will move the metal for Maxima just as well as for Altima. Can you imagine the duck waddling through all the Cadillac advertising?

Catera has an impossible row to hoe. Ads for all the other Cadillac models are beamed at the over-60 crowd, so is it any wonder that Catera missed the baby boom market?

Nissan didn't have the baggage of standing for anything in the eyes of potential Nissan model buyers, so it had the luxury of working with a blank slate. Cadillac has plenty of baggage, built over the years, and a Caddy that zigs in a different direction than the brand's other models has no chance for success.

When baby boomers see the ads for Catera, duck or no duck, their awareness of Catera might be heightened, but they won't buy a Catera because they have been preconditioned to believe that the Cadillac brand is not for them.

The Catera is not, and never will be, a Cadillac. It could be an upscale Saturn, but as a Cadillac, it's destined to join Cimarron and Allante in the Cadillac

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