So I guess as a critic, I’m out.
But that’s okay. I’ll elbow my way back in, because the lovely, slow-mo visuals that track downtown Manhattan and Dumbo caught my eye. I am nothing if not pretentious. And I loved the opening shot of the cobblestones in and around the Meatpacking District, and the striking sound design under the voiceover. It reminded me of the great sound in the Oscar contender “Birdman.”
The words piqued my interest too, although they are a bit antique — and once again, leave me uncounted, in that they keep earnestly referring to “the man.” Still, they’re fearless, muscular, and human enough to provide some old-time inspiration. They talk about giving credit to the man who is “actually in the arena… whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood,” and who, if he fails, at least fails while “daring greatly.”
“Dare Greatly” is the new Cadillac tagline; the words come from a soaring speech that Teddy Roosevelt, our greatly daring 26th president, delivered in Paris, at the Sorbonne, in the spring of 1910. First problem with the spot: TR is not credited anywhere, which creates a disconnect, because we need some historical context. Secondly, the excerpt is read by a rather soothing contemporary female voice, which in and of itself is nice, but creates another distancing in processing what she is actually saying about TR’s visionary cult of manhood.
Another problem is that this exact combination — take a great man’s historical speech, and match it to some video with an elevated aesthetic, slap a logo on the end, and voila, you have an awards contender — is overused by now.
One example from the Super Bowl was the visually dazzling Carnival Cruise spot that used a little-known JFK speech about the life-giving properties of water, and that “we all come from the sea,” matched to some majestic shots of cruise ships on clear blue waters. Many viewers thought the elevated tone didn’t match the Carnival name, while others thought it was a laughable positioning, since cruise ships are huge polluters.
But in comparison with the Cadillac spot, at least it used JFK’s own inimitable voice. And boats do sail on the sea.
It’s an even bigger redux in the automotive category, since Chrysler got there already with “Imported from Detroit,” in spots with Eminem and Clint Eastwood that tore up Super Bowls past, and also didn’t show the car until the very end. Dodge’s “God Made A Farmer” used a similar combination of famous historical words matched with images.
And though the “Imported from New York” images in this Cadillac spot are art-school beautiful, they lose all meaning, since they neither match the voiceover or make sense for the car.
Let’s start with the downtown types we see crossing streets in slow motion in the spot. Wait, so these are the rough riders of 2015? The hipster in the knit cap and jean jacket who straddles the curb, looking for a taxi? The people in line in Soho in the morning to buy their coffee? These are the men with “dust, sweat, and blood” on their faces?
Isn’t it more like foam from their latte Americanos stuck in some of their facial hair? Honestly, are these people — the “cool,” downtown, free-range, handcrafting, eco-friendly types — ever going to buy a Cadillac? Is Cadillac a car for art students?
And speaking of disconnects, one of the biggest ironies here is the French connection. TR famously gave the speech in France. And last year’s much-talked-about Caddy commercial, which ignited a firestorm of controversy, starred a swaggering, middle-aged, Republican-type guy who bragged about working hard and never taking the summer off for a vacation. And that was his punch line — making fun of the French.
Though it came off as arrogant and ugly in philosophy, the spot actually talked to its target audience.
Whereas this spot, the first from Cadillac’s new agency, Publicis, is beautiful, really easy on the eyes. But there is no there there, never mind “dare” there. I don’t think the creators actually get that the sound and visuals also require a genuine story.
What’s more, most buyers want to see the car of the future, rather than get caught up in what seemed cool to the fashion crowd in the old cast-iron, industrial neighborhoods of the past. Roosevelt wanted Americans to man up and show some mettle. And though we know this is a tease, there’s an absence of substance, in addition to the over-stylized absence of metal.