Two-door luxury cars may not constitute a big slice of the sales pie, but Cadillac's new CTS Coupe is more than a coupe. Rather like the first CTS back in 2003, the car is the new leading edge of the luxury brand, a testament both to where the "Art and Science" design program is heading and the kind of buyer Cadillac is hoping to bring into the fold. The company, gearing up for the car's launch campaign next month, has been putting the focus on grassroots and social media.
This week, the car -- which the company will pit against BMW 335i Coupe, Mercedes-Benz E350 Coupe, Audi A5 and the like -- is being unveiled at dealerships across the country at invitation-only "Premiere Week" events. Marketing Daily talks art and science with Don Butler, who in March became VP of marketing at Caddie after being VP of OnStar, General Motors' telematics division.
Q: Last year was hard. GM is out of bankruptcy and things are a hell of a lot better this year than last. But what is Cadillac's trajectory now?
A: We had a fantastic sales month in July. It reflected a couple of things. We finally started to get availability of the new SRX [crossover], and we had closeout on 2010 model vehicles. Also, year-over-year comparisons will look really good because we were out of the leasing game last year and, in the luxury market, leasing is about 50% of sales.
Q: Why is the Coupe such an important car for Cadillac? What does it represent?
A: It's a demarcation line. First, we hadn't done a Coupe since the El Dorado in 2002 and have never done one like this before. The story about how the car came to be is also a perfect way to look at the new GM. It was born not as part of a product planner's segment chart, where we are looking at volume activity and a potential sales bubble. It was the vision of a designer who saw the CTS sedan and thought about doing a different body style off of that. Both the CTS Wagon and Coupe were designers' visions. This is a vehicle that will make people reconsider Cadillac.
Q: But Cadillac has been working on that very thing since the CTS launched seven years back.
A: It's still a journey and, while we aren't yet in the position of other brands, we are getting there. We intend to be right there in the same breath as BMW, Audi and Mercedes. Have we reached it? No, but we are darned close. For dealers, part of the message is that it's new people that the Coupe will bring into the showroom. So one of the pillars of how we want to grow is all about customer experience and treatment at the retail level. The message to dealers is that every single delivery of the Coupe has to be memorable. The consumer has to feel this is special.
Q: How are you communicating this to dealers?
A: We have done several things. We have, for example, taken manufacturing-validation builds, pre-production models -- and usually we do programs with those but on a very limited basis -- and driven them to dealers around the country to immerse them in the product and get them excited about it.
Q: How are you using earned media to promote the car?
A: Because we have the Coupe and Coupe V-Series [high-performance version] arriving at same time, we can deliver a dual message. For example, we had an event with media in June and the story there was the Coupe as the new face of Cadillac, through its visually expressive design. And last week we did a press event just for the V-Series at a track in Monticello, N.Y., so we have had coverage on the Coupe and the V-Series version.
For consumer-facing programs, we are running a golf clinic through a partnership with David Leadbetter and Callaway in select markets. It's a non-pressure environment for current owners and prospects, where they also experience Cadillac. And at five different tracks around the country we are going to run a program exclusively for the Coupe V-Series, the "V Performance Lab," which is a track-based experience that teaches owners and prospects -- with pro drivers on hand -- how to drive this machine.
Q: What about digital pre-launch efforts?
A: Even going back to the November reveal at the L.A. auto show, there has been lots of digital work online with social media elements in terms of Facebook and Twitter. For us, it's about buzz and awareness. We actually revealed the price of the Coupe first on Facebook. We have also given our fans on Facebook the inside track on epicurean, golf, and driving events, how to sign up; same thing for Premiere Week events at dealerships. We are doing the same thing on Twitter.
And when the iPad launched in April, one of the first apps was by CoolHunting.com that gives weekly updates on what's new and next in art, design and architecture. Through a partnership with them, we are delivering Coupe content with things like interviews with [Cadillac design director] Clay Dean, historical information, etc. It's done in an unobtrusive way; we aren't just re-skinning the app. It's more subtle. We have had over 50,000 downloads of the app, and over 10,000 unique sessions within Coupe content. So it's a really nice way of introducing Cadillac in different way to a new audience. In terms of numbers we've got hand raisers in the tens of thousands, and the vehicle is just now at dealerships.
Q: What's the launch plan in terms of traditional media?
A: Next month traditional broadcast starts. And that will be high visibility. Broadcast and print will debut at same time, and we have some pretty cool out-of-home stuff that I can't talk about right now. I will say it's going to include mega-board campaigns with an "angles and edges" feel [reflecting the car's visual design language].
You can expect to see us back in major platforms and venues. It's fitting as a pre-imminent luxury brand to be in those places. And to be where it makes sense. For instance, we had a nice presence at Pebble Beach [Concours d' Elegance] this past weekend. So there's something about the luxury consumer and where they expect to see you, and we have to be part of fulfilling that.
Q: Weren't you at Pebble Beach last year?
A: Yes, but this year we had a large display and were able to bring the XTS concept to the West Coast. When we revealed it in Detroit, we didn't have a chance to bring it to L.A. It wasn't part of the plan before I got here and before [GM North America marketing chief] Joel Ewanick got here because we had dialed back from quite a few things. So we -- with Joel's support -- said this is something that makes sense for Cadillac. It's a place we need to be. And, again, it's part of an indication of the new culture here and how we are able to move quickly.
In the past, it might have taken I don't how many meetings and committee approvals. But it's the right thing to do and now we are empowered to make things happen. We are accountable for generating results, but I love that about the job now. It's a breath of fresh air. We have to stick with processes, and there are things we'd love to do, but one thing Joel is big on is, it's about Cadillac, Chevrolet, Buick and GMC, and that's how we go to market. And that's how we need to be known to customers. It's about the brand.
Q: Bottom line, what does the Coupe mean for the division?
A: It's about what it says for Cadillac. Coupes are not a huge segment. This vehicle for us is much more than a halo; it's what we are going to use to get permission to talk to people in a different way about Cadillac. We have been on this renaissance track since the Evoq in 1999, which introduced this Art & Science design language. The CTS Coupe opens the next chapter.