Why Cadillacs Might Be the Only Cars You See on Oscar Night

Luxury Brand Secures Four Minutes of Airtime for Next Chapter of 'Dare Greatly'

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Cadillac is coming back to the Oscars Sunday night in a big way, airing four new commercials that will account for four minutes of ad time on the ABC broadcast. And the General Motors luxury brand -- which holds exclusive vehicle advertising rights during the broadcast, according to the brand -- has arranged for some of the attending celebrities to be dropped off in Cadillacs.

The investment in Hollywood's biggest night comes as Cadillac will soon begin selling an all-new flagship model called the CT6, as well as a new XT5 crossover.

But in two of the four new ads, the vehicles -- and the Cadillac brand itself -- are hardly shown or mentioned. Instead, the spots feature nine entrepreneurs whose ages range from 15 to 25. In one 60-second spot, the Cadillac brand does not appear until 57 seconds into the ad, following the line, "only those who dare drive the world forward."

The agency is Publicis New York.

The goal of the ads -- part of the "Dare Greatly Campaign" that launched during last year's Oscars -- is to connect Cadillac with the idea that "there are people that dare greatly and we are the brand for them," Cadillac Chief Marketing Officer Uwe Ellinghaus said during a recent press event previewing the ads.

The approach adheres to his strategy of using marketing that leans heavily on emotions and ideas, rather than making ads all about the cars.

"There are no great brands without great products. But the automotive industry for a long time had a tendency to dedicate the task to elevate the brand to the product … and say if the product is good enough it will sell by itself. But that is simply not true, nothing sells by itself," Mr. Ellinghaus said.

"Just showing a car in an ad and hop[ing] it will do the job is no longer as successful as it used to be," he added. "More and more people say: What is this brand's reason to exist? What is it actually about?"

Two of the ads are more car-focused, however, as Cadillac seeks to build momentum ahead of the vehicle launches. In one spot, for instance, the CT6 is shown driving forward through New York City while people are shown walking backward down sidewalks.

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But even these ads break traditional car category advertising conventions by featuring urban landscapes, instead of the wide-open roads.

"We think this is a contemporary expression of luxury that is causal, that is vibrant, that is cosmopolitan," said Mr. Ellinghaus, speaking from Cadillac's new headquarters in New York City's SoHo neighborhood.

The campaign and new vehicle launches come as Cadillac seeks to find its niche within a luxury market dominated by the likes of Audi, BMW and Mercedes. In January, Mercedes sold 26,563 vehicles in the U.S., up 1.7% from the year earlier, according to figures compiled by Automotive News. Cadillac sold 10,740 vehicles, down 8%. Globally, Cadillac's sales rose 2.2% in January, including a 16.2% rise in China.

Cadillac's comeback plan includes filling the pipeline with more SUVs, which have surged thanks to lower gas prices and a desire by drivers to sit higher in their vehicles. Cadillac plans to launch 11 new vehicles by 2020. The list includes a compact SUV, which is the hottest segment in the industry, Mr. Ellinghaus confirmed.

But Mr. Ellinghaus -- who was CMO at BMW from 2010 to 2012 -- is under no illusions that Cadillac will be able to pry baby boomers from their BMWs, Audis and Mercedes. So he has fixed his gaze on the kids and grandkids of German-car-driving parents.

"The baby boomers walked away from Cadillac 10, 20, sometimes 30 years ago" and they aren't coming back, he said in an interview. For that reason, Caddy must "be serious in reaching out to younger customers."

This is partly why the new phase of "Dare Greatly," which is called "Don't You Dare," spotlights so many young innovators and entrepreneurs. Ads include 16-year-old Flynn McGarry, a rising culinary star in New York City; and 15-year-old Kenneth Shinozuka, who invented a sensor to help Alzheimer's patients. Also spotlighted is 22-year-old Laura Deming, who at the age of 14 was a student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology where she began working on artificial organogenesis and bone aging.

As opposed to last year's Dare Greatly ads, which included more well-known people like Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, Cadillac this year wanted to spotlight lesser-known people at the beginning of their careers, Mr. Ellinghaus said. "Achievement in young age is probably the biggest acknowledgment of daring greatly," he said.

The goal is to raise the curiosity of viewers in hopes that they will search online for the names of the people in the ads. Cadillac has purchased search ads against the names that direct people to daregreatly.com, where the brand will share more information about the ads' stars. People who search for the actual car names, like CT6, will be pushed to Cadillac.com because it's more likely they want product information, Mr. Ellinghaus said.

Daregreatly.com is more about making a soft sell to people who might not be in the market yet.

"This generation is highly skeptical," he said. "They want to be entertained. They want to see that a brand has meaning, a value, a point of view." So Cadillac does not want to be "lecturing them about details on cars that they are not yet ready to consider," he said.

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