Cadillac is bolstering its marketing program with a tripartite grassroots and experiential program designed to get consumers into its vehicles and re-tool their idea of what Cadillac means. The company, for example, is inviting both owners and non-owners to 14 golf clinics it's running that will include test drives paired with golf instruction by the David Leadbetter Golf Academy.
Jim Vurpillat, director of marketing for Cadillac, says the company is also running a culinary tour in 13 markets that combines competitive test drives featuring Cadillac's SRX crossover versus vehicles like Lexus' RX 350 and Mercedes-Benz GLK.
The third element of the experiential program this year is "V Lab," comprising five track-based events around the country featuring Cadillac's souped-up V-Series sedan, coupe and wagon. "It's a half a day of high-performance driving and education," says Vurpillat. "We partner with Skip Barber [racing school], with consumers going through three modules: slalom braking, lane change, and lap driving." As with the golf program, he says that about a third of those who attend the free, invitation-only events are owners and two-thirds are conquests.
Vurpillat says the V-Lab program, tied to a Cadillac partnership with Car and Driver and Road and Track, owes its effectiveness to the quality of attendees, who are pretty much by definition enthusiasts, and thus influencers. "It's an expensive program but worth any penny. We track all of those who attend and particularly within the high-performance enthusiast community the program has really taken off," he says.
"We know almost de facto that people who come own vehicles like BMW M3 or Mercedes-Benz AMG cars," adds Vurpillat. "They are people who tend to be the 'car guy' within their group, to whom people go for advice about cars." Cadillac also races a CTS V-Series Coupe in the SCCA World Challenge GT Series.
Vurpillat says Cadillac's marketing focus on its V-Series makes sense because even though the performance sub-brand constitutes a relatively small portion of the division's sales volume, it has an oversized influence over how consumers shape their perception of Cadillac. "Consumers have an outmoded view of the brand; [our focus on] cars like the CTS-V is validated by the 40% increase in sales and 1.6 points of share we gained in the luxury space in the first quarter this year, the biggest gain of any luxury brand," he says.
Cadillac is also branding against skiing this year, having inked a long-term partnership with Vail Resorts' six properties.
Chris Perry, GM's head of North American marketing, says Cadillac's performance focus differentiates it from GM's other luxury brand, Buick. "The Cadillac customer is one who is more entrepreneurial spirited, perhaps more interested in the latest technology, always looking for new ideas and thinking, more outer directed," he says. "Cadillac is more 'take charge.' Buick is more inclusive, more about community." He says while both Cadillac and Buick are centering test-drive programs around culinary events, at Buick such events are more community-centric. "It might include workshops on how to create dishes for a dinner party," says Perry.