Cadillac, Chrysler, And Objectivism

Objectivism is now basically the rhetorical hockey puck of Red State political discourse. Atlas has been shrugging so much lately he texted me for my orthopedist’s phone number. Republicans should just call the next Presidential campaign the “Rand and Rand Show.” Hell, Ayn might as well just dig herself out of the ground and get on the ballot. 

Her ethos has even seeped into auto ads. Yes, the recession took the “enlightened self-interest” motif right out of car advertising for a while. But post-meltdown sensitivity about success and cars as statements of net worth is gone. 

I got a text a couple of days ago from someone in the car business about the new ads for the Chrysler 300 sedan. My acquaintance's message was, essentially, that maybe Chrysler's agency (Wieden + Kennedy) hadn't gotten the memo from Cadillac's agency (Publicis). Well, that was an eye-opener for me. I hadn’t seen the Chrysler work. 

The respective tag lines — Chrysler's “Drive Proud” and Cadillac's “Dare Greatly” — do, indeed, seem to have been separated at birth. And both are, in different ways, celebrations of American “I got mine, don’t worry about his” derring do: American innovators don't drive the neighbor’s luxury car. They do things their own way and screw the other guy. 

The similarities between the campaigns are actually superficial. Compared to Chrysler’s work, Cadillac's effort is nuanced. It's as much, maybe more, about the New York creative entrepreneur than it is about Cadillac. Both brands are celebrating the upstart (or startup, as it were), but Cadillac is doing that in order to define modern luxury as something urban, young, and creative, and then driving Cadillac onto that stage. 

Chrysler's ad campaign for the 300 sedan is aggressive and physical. Its “The Kings and Queens of America” message is narrated by “Game of Thrones”’ Peter Dinklage. Like Cadillac, it features real people, like Becky Hammon (assistant coach, San Antonio Spurs), Alexis Ohanian (cofounder of Reddit), Phil Ivey (professional gambler/entrepreneur), and Kwaku Alston (photographer), but the message is a kind of a Bronx cheer to wussies. There are a lot of stern looks, flexing muscles, head-on shots of the Chrysler 300 and lotsa GRRR!! Not that there shouldn't be. Ralph Gilles penned the resurrected nameplate in 2001 as a kind of rolling fist, the Chicago gangster getaway car as upscale sedan.

Back to politics. This past weekend I was hanging out with a former U.S. ambassador (family relation; I’m not important enough on my own to know an ambassador), a confidante of four Presidents who has represented the U.S. in several countries. Here's a guy, fluent in several languages, with serious perspicacity from years spent teasing meanings out of pronouncements, conversations, and the subtle gesture. When the Chrysler spot came on I told him to pay attention. When it was finished I asked him to interpret the spot. “Well,” he said, “At first I thought it was a recruitment message for the Marine Corps.” That’s fine. At least he didn’t say, “Hey, that’s great, but when are they bringing back the DeVille?”

4 comments about "Cadillac, Chrysler, And Objectivism".
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  1. John Donohue from White Tree Concepts, April 14, 2015 at 9:36 a.m.

    "They do things their own way and screw the other guy" and "Bronx cheer to wussies." -- you brought those in with you. It's a typical construction of those who think pride in achievement, wealth, and individual ownership of property is the result of a zero-sum game in which the 'winner' has extracted those values from the 'loser.'

  2. Karl Greenberg from MediaPost, April 14, 2015 at 10:02 a.m.

    That's facile, but yyou're s software guy so you're a lot smarter than I. I won't start to get into economic theory with you, because that would be a zero-sum game for me. But you're right, I could have been clearer about it. As I wrote about the 300,  "attitude" is baked into that nameplate. And I do I think a certain "screw you" is part of the Chrysler 300 story, in a good way, starting with the way the car looks and drives. It is an aggressive car, even with Chrysler having softened the lines a bit and maybe lowering the waistline a bit. That aside, attitude, swagger, winning, all of those things mean nohting unless there's an oppononent. Sorry, I don't see how else that can work. The opponent has to lose. You really thnk millions of people are going to buy the Manny v Mayweather fight next month so they can see both of them win?

  3. Alex Mironov from Acta Shipping LLC, April 14, 2015 at 6:08 p.m.

    Karl, when you buy groceries, who wins - you or the grocery store?

  4. Karl Greenberg from MediaPost, April 14, 2015 at 9:17 p.m.

    My wife. Though she wouldn't admit it. good point. My corner just threw in the towel. 

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