True Grit: The Ford Vs. Cadillac Slam

Pardonnez-moi, mes cheries.

I come not to pile on GM at this painful moment of possible million-car recall -- but rather, to praise “Poolside.”

Created by Rogue as a “brand provocation” for the Cadillac ELS, it’s an unforgettable spot, starring actor Neal McDonough as a brash, flame-haired man without pity.

We watch him hustle around his upscale suburban manor, past pool and tightly architected interiors, barely stopping to high-five his own daughter, like she’s a top employee, as he delivers his macho American capitalist screed. Obviously, he’s a high-octane guy, and we’re lucky to have caught him pre-aneurysm.

He’s all about his love of hard work and long hours, and hatred of those pathetic Gallic wusses who require four weeks of “vacation.” 

Anyway, changing into his skinny suit,  he strides out of his manse to his car in the driveway. Throwing out another bit of pretentious French (“n’est-ce pas?”) and a wink, he gets into his $70,000 CLR luxury plug-in hybrid.

Say what? Wouldn’t this Master of the Universe otherwise curse all kale-eating, hemp-sandaled tree-huggers and the sad little hybrids/electric cars they drove in on?

That seemed to me the only inconsistency in an otherwise blindingly original, fire-breathing spot. Rather than showing the usual curvy roads or cushy interiors (never mind never mentioning MPGs), this is a commercial all about consumer beliefs, aimed unapologetically at those who aspire to be the one-percent.

Thus, both revered and reviled, the spot has become a part of the cultural conversation, which makes it a win for Cadillac. The writing and stereotypes, however, also make it eminently parody-able.

And last week, Team Detroit did just that for Ford, with “Upside," a spot made on about a tenth of the Cadillac budget, and uploaded to YouTube for zero media dollars.

To say it’s a scrappy challenger underestimates the captivating presence of Pashon Murray, an aptly named  real person who is the passionate founder of Detroit Dirt, a sustainability advocacy group.

The camera loves this woman and her happening Dante de Blasio-style hair.  And man, she is down to earth. In pretty much a shot-for-shot redux, we find Murray in work clothes and boots, standing in front of a pool of dirt, as she talks about her polar opposite values: caring about locally grown food sources and the entrepreneurs who work to compost food scraps and manure into “good, rich dirt.” 

She’s a natural, performing her version of the walk and talk of the Cadillac ad while honoring the real walk and talk in her own life.

Advertising really needs more real people with inspiring stories like this. Working hard to do good for the planet -- and growing local food resources -- that’s a pretty powerful counterpunch to Cadillac man and his manic badge of sleeplessness.

Moreover, form follows function in that after Murray cleans up into a pant suit, she stands  next to her Ford C-Max hybrid, plugged in a garage. The car is at the lower end in pricing -- more like $30,000. But in this context, the message for an electric car makes way more sense.

I have one cavil with the spot. Murray should have mentioned the word “compost.” That would better explain what she does, and why she collects food scraps -- and, as she mentions so straightforwardly, “manure.”

I’ve seen ad people bashing it for being a mere copycat. But why not work off the power of Cadillac?  I  love when brands get into it like this. It makes each message stronger.

The whole throwdown has delighted people on social media, and captured the imagination of the press, who want to make it into a vicious fight. But “Upside” is not a mean-spirited, mud-slinging parody. If it were, it would recreate “Poolside” frame for frame, but end it with Mr. Capitalist roaring off in his car, crashing straight into an oak tree. The Cadillac ad is core branding, the other is a one-off. But  each spot deftly uses nuanced consumer insights to appeal to a self-selected audience.

The Ford spot ends with a great line: “Helping a city grow good vegetables, that’s the upside of giving a damn. N’est-ce pas?”

It’s a damn good ad. In the end, I too have to turn to the language of the cheese-eating surrender monkeys, and say, “Vive la difference.”

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19 comments about "True Grit: The Ford Vs. Cadillac Slam".
  1. Michael Deane from Modern Times Film Company , April 2, 2014 at 3:39 p.m.
    While I hated the Cadillac spot--from the in your face message of false bravado to the laughably ill-fitting suit--I chuckled out loud while reading your piece. Bien fait!
  2. Tom Scharre from The Hunch Fund , April 2, 2014 at 4 p.m.
    Dante de Blasio's afro got his dad elected mayor of New York City. Let's see if Pashon Murray's afro can move a little Motown metal.
  3. Michael Porte from The Field (social), WheresSpot , April 2, 2014 at 5:08 p.m.
    Barbara, while we usually see eye to eye... this time i have to disagree. I find the Cadillac spot Xenophobic and negative - and I think the reaction to the spot is to stay away from the car. I think the audience that is looking for an electric car is a bit more enlightened than the man being portrayed. Yes, it may be speaking to the 1% - but I doubt they'd be too interested in the Caddy version of the Tesla. If they have the cash... they'd be buying that.. they better widen their market if they want to play in that game.
  4. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com , April 2, 2014 at 5:32 p.m.
    Thanks, Michael-- I agree. I was trying to be even-handed. I find the Cadillac spot pretty vile. But it sure has gotten attention by dint of the writing and performance-- and it's not pulling any punches about whom it's aimed at.
  5. George Parker from Parker Consultants , April 2, 2014 at 5:36 p.m.
    Barbara... Before Pashton Muray there was the girl in the "Fan-A-Way" spot in Putney Swope. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vjrXVjpAXjE Truth and Soul, Baby. Cheers/George
  6. George Parker from Parker Consultants , April 2, 2014 at 5:37 p.m.
    And don't forget... "You can't eat an air conditioner." Cheers/George
  7. Martin Kleinman from Communications Strategies , April 2, 2014 at 7:53 p.m.
    I enjoyed the Ford effort and I think it will resonate with potential buyers. The Caddy ad, to me, is a misfire, because I think that sales prospect that share the Caddy guy's POV are not plug-in buyers. My sense is that they're unapologetically "drill baby drill" oriented. Would love to see any research done by the brand on that. In my experience, those who have that kind of money AND that ethos are international types who travel abroad extensively and don't deride French, or other "foreign" people.
  8. Martin Kleinman from Communications Strategies , April 2, 2014 at 7:55 p.m.
    and by "that ethos" I meant "are plug-in people"
  9. Dorothea Marcus from Weichert Realtors , April 2, 2014 at 8:13 p.m.
    One of your best, Barbara. Any chance Ford will air it beyond You Tube?
  10. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com , April 2, 2014 at 8:15 p.m.
    Thanks, D. It was made with an internet-only intention,and they seemed to want to keep it on social media only, but who knows?
  11. Leslie Singer from SingerSalt , April 2, 2014 at 8:43 p.m.
    Back in the day when Helmut Krone was designing Audi ads and Bruce McCall wrote for Mercedes, they matched the integrity of brand with the integrity of their customer. I'm not sure what the Cadillac ad is doing other than illustrating some bad brief and strategy statement. It's the first time I feel bad for a car.
  12. Jo Duran from BOM , April 2, 2014 at 9:10 p.m.
    La vie est belle when the ad world does its job. Use for good and not evil. N’est-ce pas?
  13. Brian Goodall from R3:JLB , April 2, 2014 at 10:07 p.m.
    I agree with Barbara. I think it's an intersting commercial in a sea of uninteresting commercials. I get why people would say they were offended, but I wasn't offended. It's on-brand.
  14. rich siegel from Rich Siegel Worldwide , April 2, 2014 at 10:38 p.m.
    Both ads are great. How do i know? Because both pass the envy test. I wish I had written both or at least one of them.
  15. Adrian Lichter from Adrian Lichter, Inc. , April 2, 2014 at 11:15 p.m.
    Except for the "N'est pas" dig at the end, the Ford spot is the best ad for an electric car I've seen. The Caddy agency thought they were creating an icon, and were good enough at their job to sell it to GM. What they created was a jerk. A jerk with bad clothes (there's a Brooks Brothers right on Rodeo Drive--how hard is that to find?)
  16. Bridget Fonger from Writer , April 3, 2014 at 3:44 a.m.
    Well said. I agree that the way Ford won this battle was a truly elegant duel. Love the way you think.
  17. William Mount from Bil Mount Creative , April 3, 2014 at 8:36 a.m.
    Thank you, Barbara. I admire this commercial both as a terrific piece of writing and production, and as a very smart strategic move on the part of Cadillac and Rogue. I believe it takes this degree of "provocation" to get the folks who do snicker at the "kale-eating, hemp-sandaled, tree-huggers" to look at a hybrid car with anything other than utter derision. As it is, thanks to all the hubbub about the spot, we're looking and looking and looking. And it looks real god. Congratulations Rogue, Cadillac and GM. Keep it up. Keep provoking. Bit by bit, you'll make the venerable Cadillac brand something for people - some people - to aspire to once again. And, yes. Good for Ford and Team Detroit for the parody. Well done. Both brands and agencies have done their job, demonstrating that this car is for these people and that car is for those people. Kudos all around.
  18. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER , April 3, 2014 at 9:16 a.m.
    Speaking of competitive commercials, I have seen this "ronald mcdonald" spot a number of times. The product name is repeated enough times to please Doctor Burke and Rosser Reeves. And the presentation seems pleasant enough and edited smoothly. But I realize only now that I don't remember which food joint signed on all these "ronald mcdonalds" to peddle its competitive menu. I am also the wrong audience for the spot as nothing can get me drive past a McDonald's and its egg mcmuffins, hash browns, and black coffee (not too hot) to go to another drive through no matter what the name.
  19. Roger Saunders from PROSPER BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT , April 4, 2014 at 7:22 a.m.
    Why is it a fight? These are two ads for different product lines aimed at different audiences -- a Cadillac and a Ford . . . unless of course, you consider it to be an environmental marketing effort. The consumers who are viewing the message for automobiles, will find it has captured their attention and awareness. Will the amused reaction to each deliver them to a test drive, has to be the standard.