Cadillac's brand reboot, made in Manhattan

Cadillac, "The Arena" by by Publicis New York and Publicis UK.
Cadillac, "The Arena" by by Publicis New York and Publicis UK.

In time for an Oscar debut, GM's luxury brand enlists Publicis to forge a New York connection and a bridge to Generation Y

NEW YORK — Sunday’s broadcast of the 87th Annual Academy Awards broadcast will mark the red-carpet debut of Cadillac’s new brand campaign — and its first play for the luxury market since moving to New York from Detroit.

The General Motors brand raised hackles in the Motor City September 2014 when it announced that new Cadillac President Johan de Nysschen (a veteran of Audi and Nissan’s Infiniti luxury line) was steering brand headquarters to Manhattan.

Auto-industry observers agree de Nysschen and Chief Marketing Officer Uwe Ellinghaus have had their work cut out for them. While Cadillac's product line continues to win accolades for its engineering and features with models like the new CT6, the business has struggled to distinguish its brand in a crowded market. 

That effort led to some notable missteps, such as Cadillac's February 2014 "Poolside" ad, which was created by IPG's now-defunct Rogue agency dedicated to Cadillac. "Poolside," which drew derision for Neal McDonough's turn as an arrogant American, even inspired its own parody from GM's perennial competitor Ford Motor Co

When Cadillac announced its New York plans, the Detroit Free Press reported that the brand said it was moving to "the heart of a city renowned for establishing trends and setting standards for the global luxury market."

Now Cadillac is about to double down on its New York messaging: A teaser for its Oscars spot features a street-level tour of the city, accompanied by quotes from "Man in the Arena," perhaps the most famous speech by former New York City Police Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt.

The ad, created by Publicis New York and Publicis UK, will usher in the tagline "Dare Greatly," which is designed to position the brand as an avatar of contemporary luxury: "downtown New York luxury meets the spirit of Silicon Valley," Carla Serrano, chief strategy officer of Publicis North America, told Campaign.

A New York state of mind

Cadillac CMO Ellinghaus told Campaign that the brand’s new SoHo location is key to its international strategy and its appeal to a new generation of luxury buyers.  "Normally, moving a company not that interesting," Ellinghaus said. In Cadillac’s case, however, it creates a powerful connection to an evocative location currently dominated by German competitors. "In luxury,  you need to associate brand to a certain city," he said. "Buyers immediately associate Burberry with London; Cartier, with Paris.

"Cadillac is not as strong at the coasts as we would like to be, while the Germans are very strong," Ellinghaus continued. "California and New York are the places to be — we wanted to send a signal that we’re willing to play with the Germans for a luxury audience.

"It’s a very nice way to play with the American spirit of optimism and boldness without saying, ‘We’re American luxury.’ "

Indeed, Ellinghaus said, New York also holds powerful appeal for international audiences. "From a mindshare point of view, New York is second to none as an international center, drawing influences from Europe as well as Asia."

What’s more, Ellinghaus said, Cadillac’s new focus on place and context over product specs is intentionally crafted to reach Generation X and Y, which he said will comprise between 60% and 80% of luxury automotive consumers by 2020. "We don’t want to one-up our way into competition. Generation X and Y don’t care about more horsepower — they care about what luxury means to them.

"Where product specs matter the most is after the sale," Ellinghaus continued. "Specs give people a reason why they made the purchase. But the product set is not the hook to get them into the relevance set. "

A life of luxury

The campaign itself is a bold move for Cadillac and Publicis, which was formally given the account in November 2014, in part on the strength of the team’s work with Cartier.

According to Publicis UK executive creative director Andy Bird, Cadillac’s de Nyscchen and Ellinghaus encouraged the agency to apply best-of-class luxury branding to Cadillac — even if it meant looking beyond the automotive market for inspiration.

"The visual and vibe of the place appeals to our potential audience," Bird added. "There’s a real universal appeal to New York that translates well."

The international language of luxury extended to the agency’s other choices, Bird said. A forthcoming print campaign to debut next week was shot by a fashion photographer, not an automotive photographer.

Meanwhile, the "Silicon Valley" part of the brand equation hints at some digital aspects of the campaign, Serrano said, including social media and innovative multimedia experiences.

According to Cadillac CMO Ellinghaus, "Cadillac is so often reduced to clichés of the past. I wanted to feature that it’s a cool and hip Americana.

"A luxury brand sells dreams and not products. It invites people into a different and compelling world. We need to make people dream Cadillac instead of arguing their way into the purchase."

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