Caddy evaluates shop

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Talk is swirling once again that Cadillac is on the rocks with D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles. And Cadillac's new general marketing manager, Mark LaNeve, stops short of a blanket endorsement of the division's life-long agency.

"I'm looking at everything. I'm evaluating all our plans and partners," said Mr. LaNeve, interviewed last week just 11 days after moving back to General Motors Corp. from president of Ford Motor Co.'s Volvo Cars of North America.

Mr. LaNeve has requested a reel from Bcom3 Group's DMB&B, Troy, Mich., to review advertising from the past six years since he left Cadillac, heading first to Pontiac, then to Volvo in 1997. But he's seen the most recent work and added, "We have great advertising."

Speculation about troubles with DMB&B has surfaced every few years in the past decade. This time, the talk may have been sparked by the departure of Robin Weeks, who left after just a year as VP-exec creative director. Gary Topolewski, former exec creative director at TBWA/Chiat/Day, Playa del Rey, Calif., joined DMB&B May 21 as exec VP-chief creative officer, succeeding Ms. Weeks (AA, May 14).

Stan Fields, chief operating officer of DMB&B in Troy, said there's been no indication from Cadillac that anything is amiss. "Often when you have an executive creative director leaving an agency it causes all sorts of rumors," he said. But "there's nothing but continued progress on the creative stuff on the table now." The agency is moving through the approval process with new work for Cadillac, which will be an evolution of the recent "Moments" TV spot.

DMB&B and predecessors have handled Cadillac since at least 1915, when adman Ted MacManus penned the famous "Penalty of leadership" print ad for Cadillac.

At least one agency made overtures recently for the business, but the client said it would stick with DMB&B, according to an executive close to the situation.

Mr. LaNeve said he's studying whether to do an umbrella divisional campaign early next year, under which each product would have a role. The next vehicle launch is the Escalade EXT, a pickup-sport utility combo, followed by Catera's replacement, the CTS sedan.

GM has been moving to increase emphasis on divisional branding after spending billions on campaigns since 1995 to create brand image for every vehicle.

Mr. LaNeve sees his top priority as introducing models "with great quality and the right promotional launch. ... But you have got to have the right product."

David Cole, director of the nonprofit ERIM's Center for Automotive Research, said Cadillac can recover in the next few years with the right products. "The greatest concern I have is not in the execution. It's whether the styling theme is going to catch on or not."

Cadillac, which started selling cars in 1902, reached its peak sales year in 1978 with 350,813 cars, according to Automotive News. The division also surpassed the 300,000 mark in 1983, 1984 and 1986. Since then, it has been hurt by lackluster products, some quality problems, increased competition and an aging buyer base. Last year, it sold 189,154 vehicles, landing fifth among luxury auto marketers.

"I'm promoting that underdog mentality," said Mr. LaNeve. "We're not the volume leader anymore, and we need to fight our way back customer by customer."

Contributing : Laura Q. Hughes

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