Cadillac Taps Modernista, Slaps Burnett

Brand Chief's Link to Boston Shop Central to $160M Shift

By Published on .

NEW YORK ( -- Blame the Super Bowl ad that put the brawny Escalade on a froufrou fashion-show runway.

In a punishing one-two blow, General Motors yanked an estimated $160 million-plus in Cadillac business from Leo Burnett USA, giving it to Boston independent Modernista, and simultaneously called a review for its $40 million Goodwrench dealer parts and service account, also at the storied Chicago shop.

Certainly the Cadillac move owes a lot to Marketing Director Liz Vanzura's longtime relationship with the execs at Modernista. But insiders said Burnett's glitzy Super Bowl spot for the Escalade, which showed the car on a 100-foot mirrored runway as the centerpiece of a fashion show, was the final straw. GM's official statement was that it needed "fresh creative."

Either way, the loss of regional and national creative on several Cadillac brands is crushing to Burnett, which has in one incarnation or another handled it since at least the 1930s. It seems especially harsh as much of its work on the brand has been critically acclaimed, and sales have been reasonably strong -- up 1.7% year-on-year for the first two months of '06.

The agency surrenders the CTS sedan, SRX crossover, performance V-Series models and other unnamed projects to Hummer shop Modernista, Boston. Burnett continues work on the Escalade SUV, DTS, STS and XLR roadster. James Moore, president of Burnett Detroit, declined to comment. Burnett CEO Tom Bernardin wasn't available.

The decision couldn't have come as much of a shock to them, though. When Liz Vanzura took over as marketing director as Cadillac just a month ago, Detroit insiders were betting she'd bring the business to Modernista. Ms. Vanzura worked with the agency's founder Lance Jensen at Hummer and also at Arnold where he was group creative director on VW and she was ad director.

Troubles have plagued Burnett's GM business. Within months of Mr. Bernardin's arrival, Patrick Sherwood, President-CEO of Chemistri (now Leo Burnett Detroit), left, as did top creative Gary Topolewski.

The showy Super Bowl spot was very costly. Burnett rented a former airplane hangar in L.A. to create a fashion show, with the 100-foot runway, supermodels like Rachel Hunter, celebrity makeup artist Kabuki and 250 extras.

But the high-fashion pitch failed to take into account Escalade's 60% male buyer base, or the fact that an increasing number of marketers have concluded women don't want a "chick" car any more than men do.

The Cadillac spokesman denied the marketer is unhappy with Burnett. "We just wanted to bring fresh creative to those product lines" he said. "We have lots of good agencies that we do business with and use creative from others outside the core agency," said Mark LaNeve, VP-vehicle sales, service and marketing.

Most Popular
In this article: