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Cadillac Seeking New Ad Agency To Deliver

Posted by: David Kiley on October 12, 2009

GM has put its Cadillac ad account in review. I wonder what Mad Men’s Don Draper would do?

As a fan of AMC’s “Mad Men”, show, I would love to see the agency get involved in a full-scale pitch for a car account. How about Cadillac for next season? Maybe GM can persuade Caddy to take out a flock of ads in exchange for the story placement.

The story. Yes, just what is Cadillac’s story these days? That is the issue confronting GM and the agencies pitching the business must sort out.

As my colleague David Welch pointed out recently in an article, “GM Must fashion Another Cadillac Renaissance,” the brand is on a “knife edge,” as BMW’s U.S. chief James O’Donnell stated in the article. GM’’s bankruptcy and its pull-back on leasing this year has seriously hurt Caddy’s business.

Ad Age reported that current agency Modernista!, Boston, which has handled the business for a few years, is being cut (the agency declined to participate in the review) for financial reasons. An independent agency, Modernista! is said to charge higher fees than GM’s Interpublic Group and Publicis Agencies.

I don’t buy that as the biggest reason. To keep a car account, I’m willing to bet Modernista! Could have reorganized its compensation to fit the new GM. The agency was handpicked without a review by former Cadillac marketing chief Liz Vanzura. And GM’s departing head of sales Mark LaNeve, who lost his marketing duties in August, was a big supporter. Modernista! lost its boosters in Detroit. It happens.

Cadillac has some terrific vehicles. The CTS is as good as any competitor in its class I have driven. The new CTS wagon and SRX crossover—-first rate. Top Drawer. The giant Escalade SUV, if that’s the kind of vehicle you want, is also terrific. Best in class.

Caddy still has a brand hangover from years of selling flabby Sevilles, Devilles and Fleetwoods. Modernista! Actually did a nice job of vaulting Caddy forward with some distinctive looking ads and messages.

Take this spot featuring actress Kate Walsh:

This ad and others like it were memorable and well targeted.

Less successful, I thought, was this recent ad. It shows the newest Cadillacs screaming across a desert as if they are space-rockets being shot across the desert by NASA mission control.

The trouble with this spot is that it looks too much like advertising. We are very much in a post-advertising marketing climate. The idea of showing off four hot new cars, which are the heart of the new Cadillac, is a good idea. I’m just not sure yet another space-related idea was the way to go. Lincoln has been playing in this area. Saab before that. Trite.

Caddy needs entirely new ideas to change the conversation about the brand, not a new ad campaign.

GM is fighting for its life and survival. Cadillac is critical, along with Chevrolet, to make that future happen.

It’s as good a time as any to see what resources are out there that know how to operate in the new world. Cadillac doesn’t just need a new ad agency, it needs a new thought process; a partner to redefine the problem and the solution.

In the movie “Tin Men,” aluminum siding salesmen think of their Cadillacs as the badge of their success. Every one of them has a Caddy, all of them with tail-fins. But the salesman/character played by Richard Dreyfus realizes by the end of the film, as he sees a Volkswagen Beetle drive by, that the era of the tail-finned Caddy and the cheap Tin Man is over. He starts thinking about getting himself a Volkswagen franchise.

I don’t think Caddy’s time is over. The product is too good. But we are seeing Saturn go to the automotive brand museum despite one of its models, the Aura, capture North American Car of the Year award three years ago. Great product isn’t enough. Smart management and a big idea is necessary too.

I’d look for GM to engage The Martin Agency, Fallon Worldwide and possibly Deutsch and Wieden & Kennedy to be their new idea factory. Let the pitches begin. Paging Don Draper!

Reader Comments


October 12, 2009 4:21 PM

Using smoke and mirrors was a necessity when GM had nothing but tired vehicles to sell. Now that they have have some interesting product (Caddy, Malibu, LaCrosse), they should sell the sizzle and the steak. Show the friggin' cars already and you don't need to spend nearly so much time being cute.

John McCutchen

October 12, 2009 8:27 PM


I'm not an advertising exec like "Don Draper", but I am 55 with 25 years in the auto supplier industry and I think if they went back to a more nostalgic, work hard, reward yourself, view of the American dream, this image might sell better to people. For example, my brother is a lawyer in Texas and he still buys a "Texas Cadillac", a Yukon, which everyone even in Missouri seems to use as sports kids haulers. I think seeing these used in Presidential, security vehicle movies may have triggered this idea of "if it's safe enough for the Prez, then it'll keep the family safe.

With all Cadillacs, one could use the image of "I've made it by hard work, savvy, playing by the rules, and it's about time I step up to the top, not to impress my friends, but to reward myself for a job well done. I envision a commerical showing regular small businessmen driving alongside Donald Trump, and yes, a Secret Service convoy all stopping for a drink somewhere and when they converge toward the door, they all admire each other's vehicles and give each other an approving nod or thumb's up, all recognizing the value of owning such a vehicle. This image, in my opinion, maybe also with a little humor, would help revitalize the brand of a quality, expensive car, worth owning. There's the catch phrase, "It's Worth owning, period".
John McCutchen (unfortunately, I have creativity and can't yet afford one, yet)

Suzanne Higginson

October 12, 2009 8:55 PM

Absolutly spot on, when will these corporate identities realise we want entertaining not force fed adverts. I like the work of advertising guerrilla they make such brilliant ads i enjoy waiting to see what pops up next :-) take note caddy...


October 13, 2009 4:34 AM

the problem of diminishing sales at GM is not the ads but the kind of product they want to sell. untill they improve product so that Consumers Reports gives GM product good reviews increased sales are not very likely. also, there is a lot of very good competition out there for auto buyers. GM needs a fix at the top of the chain rather than further down. Ford has done so with good results. Chrysler needs major surgery all over but may not survive in its original form. and, ads are not the solution!


October 13, 2009 1:24 PM

Well, GM can (finally) sell products on their merits instead of the insultingly dumb adds of the past. First, don't resurrect Harley Earl from the grave. Second make sure it's all about the products as they are ready for prime time- Caddy, Malibu and LaCrosse. And lastly, distance yourselves from Hummer as far as possible. It may be different in the heartland but Hummer kept loads of potential GM buyers out of the showrooms in the northeast and west coast.


October 13, 2009 1:36 PM

Only from GM's late entry in the Hybrid segment would I agree with you, that GM is not building what people want.
Regarding Consumer Reports - They are defintiely biased against some American made products. I wouldn't doubt that some are living large off under-the-table "ad" dollars. Forget Consumer Reports. Have you read about the more recent Toyota recalls?
The 80's and 90's bias (some of which they brought down on the their heads) against GM and Ford is outdated. Pick up Motor Trend or car and Driver - much less bias with these.


October 13, 2009 3:14 PM

The Cadillac name still might live if it weren't attached to the "GM" moniker. "GM" should just disappear is any an all ads.

Then, the "GM" folks should let the Cadillac folks alone to, once again, renew the product line, as GM's biggest failure is too much corporate oversight of their product lines.


October 14, 2009 4:08 PM

Ad agencies need to be measured by results and Modernista did nothing for Cadillac. Vanzura had them spend their first 6 months working on the Cadillac "vision", the result was "... the pursuit". They never showed the product being used by people, only flash and single driver spots. The Kate Walsh ad was OK but why so dark? Mercury does better with Jill Wagner and their cars are junk.

Cadillac wasted several years with Modernista and maybe learned a lesson on what not to produce.

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