General Motors' (NYSE:GM) luxury brand, Cadillac, has an interesting problem.
Its latest models are very good. The ATS and CTS sedans have won awards and plaudits from critics. They're true competitors to the German brands that dominate luxury cars nowadays -- in fact, in some ways, they're a bit better than the Germans.
But so far, sales have been lackluster. The problem is this: To some extent, GM's new Cadillacs have alienated the loyal buyers who have been keeping the brand afloat for the last few decades. They're not soft and cushy, and they're considerably more expensive than the Cadillacs of old. In fact, they're priced close to those German stalwarts, but so far, Cadillac isn't attracting a lot of buyers away from the German brands.
Cadillac's product may have caught up with the Germans, in other words, but the brand still has work to do.
That work falls to former BMW executive Uwe Ellinghaus, who is now Cadillac's chief marketing officer. It's his job to shift buyers' perceptions of Cadillac.
How is he going to do that?
He's not doing it by targeting a specific demographic. As he told us, that's not the way to market a luxury brand nowadays. Instead, he's concentrating on giving Cadillac a strong and clearly defined "point of view," one that will draw buyers from many different demographics over time.
That "point of view" starts with the idea of "passion" -- and with Cadillac's new advertising tag line, "Dare Greatly." What's all this mean? We spent a few minutes with Ellinghaus at last week's New York International Auto Show, and he explained to us -- in his thoroughly entertaining style -- exactly what's behind his vision for Cadillac's new message.
A transcript of the video is below.
John Rosevear: So demographically, you're shifting Cadillac with the "Dare Greatly" ad campaign. With the new models and so forth. Not just to a younger buyer, but to almost more of an entrepreneurial...
Uwe Ellinghaus: Yeah. I remain true to my conviction that all this nonsense on which is your desired target group -- who you are after -- is intellectual masturbation, if you forgive me for saying so. That's something I can say to The Motley Fool and not to The New York Times...
John Rosevear: Yes, you certainly can!
Uwe Ellinghaus: ...because at the very end, this is the marketing of the 1980s and 1990s. Particularly in luxury, you need to have an owned point of view, and I want us to talk about what we have to bring to the table, and not about a certain target group that we are after. And with "Daring Greatly," I think we show with all the changes we make at Cadillac that we dare greatly. It's not just a campaign. To move our more stand-alone business and the investments of $12 billion into new cars, and this has been just the icing on the cake.
We also have a communication campaign that says, "Whether you are young or old, black or white, gay or straight, it does not matter at all. We are for everybody who dares greatly." So this entrepreneurial spirit -- we are the brand for people who are individualists. Who believe in themselves. Who violate the norm because the norm in luxury is German, let's face it, and who have the guts to simply go for something else. These are the people that I have in mind for Cadillac, and I am convinced this is as appealing as it is for older people with an entrepreneurial spirit, who are still very alive, as it is for the younger generation.
And just look at what the competition is doing. We are in New York, here, and you can see that they all try to associate themselves with New York. And if you look at the backdrops -- look right over there -- what are they showing? They are always showing the skyscrapers of New York and the business world, but this is the corporate world that had appeal in the 1980s and 1990s.
The cool New York is not Midtown. The cool New York is Soho. The cool New York is Brooklyn. The cool New York is what we are featuring and it's our home base.
So in this regard, I just think we send a very deliberate signal, also, with the backdrops that we have chosen that we want to get out of the world of bankers and wankers, and we can't see these cliched lifestyle communications -- SUV on a beach, or coupe on a curvy, winding, coastal road in California -- any longer. I didn't come here to do the kind of advertising that is still the standard of the industry. I [may] polarize and lose a few, or some people might think this is step too far. They can't get their heads around it.
But I have piles of letters from old Cadillac customers saying this is no longer their Cadillac. It's something that I accept. At the very end, they are right. It is no longer their Cadillac.
John Rosevear owns shares of General Motors. The Motley Fool recommends BMW and General Motors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not 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.