Marketing Lessons from Cadillac’s Reinvention


Vice President , Business Development

Last weekend at the Academy Awards, Cadillac debuted a daring commercial fit for the event: a 60 second spot directed by veteran filmmaker Doug Liman featuring a who’s who of innovation: Steve Wozniak, fashion designer Jason Wu, Richard Linklater, Anne Wojcicki and Njeri Riong.

The message: Cadillac isn’t what you think.

In a great piece in AdAge, Uwe Ellinghaus, Cadillac’s new Chief Marketing Officer, outlined his radical new plan for the American luxury brand. Step one: stop calling it a luxury brand.

“Firstly, if you need to say that you are luxury, you are not luxury,” Ellinghaus said. “Louis Vuitton does not say they are luxury. They simply are.”

The article covers a series of invaluable marketing lessons, but here are three takeaways.

Show, Don’t Tell

If you need to remind people that you’re a luxury brand, you’re probably not. It’s a common problem in marketing, that when you think about it, makes no sense. If a doctor’s advertisements bragged “went to medical school,” you’d be right to be a little suspicious. If Cadillac said “this isn’t your Grandpa’s car,” you might think they were protesting too much.

“Johan de Nysschen, my boss, and I always say we want to build the first luxury brand that just happens to make cars,” Mr. Ellinghaus said. “That sounds like a joke, but we’re serious about it.”

Cadillac, of course, is a luxury brand, and it’s making a few moves that have worked for similar high-end automakers. The company is taking a few cues, like model names, from European counterparts.

Undersell, Over-Deliver

New Cadillacs, like BMW and Audi, will use numbered names to create a brand hierarchy.  To compete against the BMW 5 or Audi A8, you’ll be seeing the Cadillac CT5 CT6 – but no CT7. By having the numbers top out at 6, Ellinghaus hopes to undersell and over-deliver against similarly numbered competitors.

“If we had called the car CT7, it would have been compared to the 7-series long wheelbase, and it is not that expensive and not that big,” he explained. “And same with CT8: It would have been compared with an Audi A8, and still it is not there.”

Make Art, Tell Stories

Luxury is about image, and nothing purveys luxury like beautiful cinematography. In addition to great aesthetics, great storytelling drives Cadillac’s new commercial. Engaging consumers in a narrative is the best way to get, and retain attention.

Cadillac has some ground to pick up after slipping in sales last year, but with Ellinghaus running the company’s marketing efforts it will undoubtedly be one of this year’s most exciting brands to watch. And marketers would be wise to decipher his playbook, if only to use it for themselves.