What Is General Motors Thinking With This New Cadillac Ad?

A new ad that seems to praise American virtues has critics in an uproar.

Mar 8, 2014 at 9:30AM

General Motors (NYSE:GM) launched a series of new television ads during the Winter Olympics. Most were about what you'd expect -- unremarkable, except for that one Cadillac ad.

If you've seen it, you know the one I'm talking about. It's the one in which actor Neal McDonough walks swiftly through a big house extolling the virtues of America, before going out front and getting into a Cadillac ELR.

If you haven't seen it, take a look:

Wow, huh? If Cadillac's goal is to get people talking about their brand, this ad has certainly done its job. 

Critics everywhere are reacting, most with something close to rage. Kimberly Weisul at Inc. magazine derided it for "celebrating the unending, joyless pursuit of stuff" and called it a great ad -- for Tesla Motors (NASDAQ:TSLA)

The Huffington Post's Carolyn Gregoire called it a "nightmare" and said, "There are plenty of things to celebrate about being American, but being possessed by a blind mania for working yourself into the ground, buying more stuff, and mocking people in other countries just isn't one of them." 

And ad critic Mark "Copyranter" Duffy snarked it for not focusing on the car, which makes an almost incidental appearance at the end. 

Tough talk all around. Did GM make an epic mistake with this ad?

I don't think so. 

I just think these critics don't understand what GM is trying to accomplish with this ad.

Cadillac is facing an interesting marketing challenge
Let's back up for a second. 

GM is in the midst of a long-term effort to turn Cadillac into a legit global peer to German luxury brands like BMW (NASDAQOTH:BAMXF) and Mercedes-Benz. This is a major corporate priority. It's driven by sound financial considerations, and investors should view it as a very good thing. (Read why here.) 


The 2014 Cadillac CTS sedan, new last fall, has been racking up awards. Photo credit: General Motors.

This effort has been going on for several years and will go on for several years more. But right now, it's at a point where GM -- Cadillac -- has an interesting marketing problem.

Here's the thing: The latest Cadillacs are great. The new CTS sedan is Motor Trend's Car of the Year, and it's beating BMW and Mercedes in comparison tests. The ATS did much the same when it came out a year and a half ago. And the all-new Escalade that's coming out shortly has moved far past its bling-y origins and turned into a stunning luxury vehicle.

(I know that sounds crazy, but trust me, I've seen it and sat in it. I'm not an SUV guy, but the new Escalade is a really, really nice luxury SUV.)


The 2015 Cadillac Escalade is all new -- and like the CTS, it's a big step up from its predecessor. Photo credit: General Motors.

Cadillac, in other words, has finally reached product parity with the best from Germany -- at least with its newest products. Getting there was an enormous challenge. 

But now they have another big challenge: getting BMW and Mercedes and Audi customers to give them a chance.

Dear critics: This ad isn't about you
See, there's this whole class of American car-buyers (most of whom are successful professional men) who won't even consider a non-German car. I know several guys like that. Maybe you do, too.

The problem is that Cadillac has the products, but they don't yet have the brand clout. The guys at the country club won't be impressed by a CTS the way they'll be impressed by an Audi A6, or so goes the conventional wisdom.

As I see it, this ad is talking to those guys

This ad is saying: "Hey, dudes, what's your problem with American cars? What's your problem with America?" (And I think it's saying it pretty well: The line about leaving the keys in the moon rover was just brilliant. Give that writer a raise.) 

This ad isn't about the Cadillac ELR that appears briefly at the end. It's about the idea that real luxury cars, good luxury cars, have to come from overseas brands.

Cadillac is saying that they deserve a closer look. And whether you love or hate this ad, they have a pretty strong case.

What do you think? Is the ad a fun, effective one? Or has GM made a huge mistake here? Scroll down to leave a comment and let me know.

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John Rosevear owns shares of General Motors. The Motley Fool recommends BMW, General Motors, and Tesla Motors and owns shares of Tesla Motors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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