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Car guys are different from you and me. Car guys are convinced that their business is unlike any other, that the ordinary rules of marketing don't apply.

They believe, for example, that individual car models are each a separate brand that can go off in a different direction from the mother ship. So in the Cadillac division of General Motors Corp., for instance, the Seville and DeVille models are treated as individual brands, each with its own brand manager, each with its own strategy.

And that includes the new "entry lux" model Catera (auto guys also have their own lingo), which I wrote about Sept. 8. My position was that Catera, and its "daffy duck" ads, would soon join Allante and Cimarron in the Cadillac graveyard.

The Catera marketing team begs to differ with my harsh assessment. The team's brand manager, Dave Nottoli, an 18-year Cadillac veteran, and ad director, an ex-agency man, Steve Rosenblum, contend that they've got a "huge success" on their hands.

Cadillac, they figure, will sell about 25,000 Cateras this calendar year, which compares favorably with other "entry lux" model introductions. Infiniti, for example, sold 21,561 J30s in 1993; Mercedes-Benz sold 22,055 190s in 1984; Lexus sold 20,778 E20s in 1990; and Acura sold 24,700 TLs in 1996.

Of course, Cadillac has a much bigger network that those other car companies-1,550 dealers in the U.S. and another 700 outside the U.S. One auto consultant told our sister publication Automotive News that Cadillac should be selling 60,000 Cateras given its dealer advantage.

On the other hand, not all Cadillac dealers sell Cateras, only ones that are willing to make a commitment to the new model. Julie Hamp, Cadillac's communications director, told me 790 Cadillac dealers sell Cateras, and she further explained that most Cadillac dealers are dual-line or multi-line dealers; 150 sell only Cadillacs. The other guys, I take it, sell just Lexus or Mercedes or Infiniti.

Dave and Steve staunchly defended the Catera advertising, which features not exactly a duck but a merlette, which is a mythical bird similar to a duck-and taken from the family crest of the founder of Cadillac. They contend the ads successfully communicated youthfulness, fun, new and sporty, "and the duck helped do that," they said. Awareness is "extremely important" to Catera's success, and the Catera ads got people-younger and female-to take notice, and then buy, they said.

The Catera also captured "conquest" sales. Dave and Steve said that 40% of Catera buyers traded in a non-GM car, everything from the Mercedes E-class to Ford Taurus, Nissan Maxima and Honda, the highest of any Cadillac badge.

Another third traded in another Cadillac, which they said was to be expected because the car often went to "favored customers."

Steve Rosenblum has worked at Grey Advertising in Los Angeles, Bayer Bess Vanderwarker in Chicago and Lowe & Partners/SMS, New York, and he's worked on various Coca-Cola brands, Johnson & Johnson, Gatorade, Mennen and Braun. Steve maintains the auto business is different from all of the above, mostly because there's such a big difference in price among various models of the same make, up to $15,000 or $20,000. Versions of a product like Tide, might only have a $1.50 variance, he noted.

I suppose what he's saying is that you can't advertise a car model that costs $20,000 less than the line's most expensive model in the same way. Yet both Dave and Steve say there is a common tone in the advertising for the various Cadillac models, even though they each have their own strategies.

Detroit is nothing if it's not thorough. The Cadillac people prepared a Q&A for me just to make sure I understood their position. Here's their answer to their question on Catera's ads coming under criticism from "some advertising writers."

"Anyone who follows the advertising business knows that ad columnists have to criticize ads. This may sell a few trade magazines and newspapers, but this criticism has almost no impact on the average customer."

What's more, "for every journalist who criticizes the duck, there are Catera dealers who can't keep stuffed toy Catera ducks in stock."

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