Comeback Kid Cadillac Stalls After Shop Swap

Lack of 'Memorable' Marketing, New-Product Drought Blamed, but Automaker Believes New CTS Will Shift Momentum

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After trading in its agency and advertising campaign, Cadillac is losing sales -- and with them, the momentum it had been showing.
Cadillac's new CTS model, with options like a hard drive for music and a super-powered engine, is aimed at buyers in their 40s.
Cadillac's new CTS model, with options like a hard drive for music and a super-powered engine, is aimed at buyers in their 40s.

The General Motors Corp. luxury brand figured to be a comeback story earlier in the decade, said Art Spinella, president of CNW Market Research, but in the past 18 months, the percentage of auto shoppers considering Cadillac has been flat. In the first half of the year, the brand's consideration ranking was its poorest since 2003. Not only that, the age of consumers aspiring to own a Cadillac rose to nearly 36 years old this year from 30 three years ago, CNW found -- bad news for a brand that's been trying to appeal to more youthful buyers.

So what's to blame? Mr. Spinella cited two things: Cadillac's marketing "slacked off in being memorable" and an 18-month drought of new models.

Last year, Cadillac dropped its edgy "Break Through" campaign with a catchy Led Zeppelin song after nearly a four-year run when it moved its account without a review to Modernista, Boston.

Since then, many Cadillac dealers have been frustrated at a six-month dry spell in advertising and the "Life. Liberty. And The Pursuit" work in the past year, according to a dealer on the East Coast. But while Daniel Jobe, chairman of the dealer council, admitted "there have been some issues," he said it's not fair to point the finger at Modernista.

This much is clear, however: U.S. sales for Cadillac are down 10% to 134,584 vehicles through August vs. the same period of 2006. And Cadillac hopes to move the needle with the launch of the second-generation, entry-level luxury CTS sedan.

GM will spend an estimated $60 million on a blitz for the CTS. That's up nearly sixfold from the $11 million it spent last year in measured media for the CTS, according to TNS Media Intelligence. The new push began Sept. 16 and runs though mid-November, but a follow-up phase is due early next year.

Maureen Bickford, national advertising manager, said the marketer believes the CTS can do for Cadillac cars what the Escalade did for its SUV lineup. Liz Vanzura, marketing director at Cadillac, said the brand "is focusing on CTS as a halo vehicle to being people into the brand."

Doug Scott, senior VP of consultant GfK Automotive, said that strategy is sound. "If you think about how people are going to enter a luxury brand, it has to be from the bottom up." But GM needs to keep the car in people's minds with advertising. "You have to keep the drums beating for it.
Brand Identity
Source: CNW Marketing Research
You can't go extensively dark."

"By no means is Cadillac cooked, only that there are some seams coming unravelled," Mr. Spinella said. He also called marketing until now "invisible" compared to the Led Zeppelin spots.

Ms. Vanzura said dealers are "overwhelmingly supportive" of the CTS launch ads and that the top 100 U.S. dealers who saw the ads at a meeting earlier this month gave the work a standing ovation. The creative in the integrated-media launch blends the emotional and the rational, she said.

High-power options
The median age of CTS owners is in the high 50s, she said, but the stylish new model, which can be had with an optional 3.6-liter direct injection engine with 304 horsepower and a 40-gigabyte hard-disc drive that can store audio tracks, is aimed at buyers in their mid 40s.

Ms. Vanzura said year-long research done by consultant AutoPacific through March 2007 ranked Cadillac as third among auto brands, with a 23% improvement on positive opinion changes. (Saturn was tops at 29% and Hyundai second at 28%.)

"It takes a lot of work to move these opinions," Ms. Vanzura said. "It's a marathon, not a sprint."
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