Q&A: Cadillac's Ellinghaus Talks About The Big Picture

Moving operations to downtown Manhattan? Investing billions in new vehicles? Launching a new marketing platform featuring young entrepreneurs in ads steeped in lower-Manhattan and Brooklyn Weltanschauung? Wait, that's probably the wrong word for Cadillac’s zeitgeist. Oops, another one.

The bottom line for Cadillac's marketing chief Uwe Ellinghaus is that Cadillac is not going to be speaking any German today. The “Dare Greatly” campaign (via Publicis, NY) is intended to be unique, uniquely American, and a reflection of Cadillac’s own willingness to risk big. Ellinghaus talks to Marketing Daily about the brand direction.



Q: The new ads: Too little about product and too much about the idea? 

A: There are no great brands without great products and that's a given; it's an entry ticket. But you cannot overlook the fact that even the best products in the world do not sell themselves if they are not accompanied by a meaningful message that resonates with consumers. And I really think that Cadillac, with its heritage, has always had more to offer than great products. 

Q: There are people who would say it’s all about product. 

A: And this is what car guys sometimes don't understand: luxury brands sell more than the product. They sell a dream. There is no way around getting customers to aspire to be part of this great brand. 

Q: Can advertising achieve that? 

A: Alone? Not at all. With "Dare Greatly," we at least achieve one thing: we create disruption, mystery and intrigue. Hey, if this industry believes that SUVs on beaches and coupes on coastal roads next to oceans is the way forward, whether in the agency arena or the automotive arena in marketing departments, I can only say “great for me,” because that is absolutely not what we will do. We are a brand for people with an entrepreneurial mindset. Young, old, black, white, urban, rural? I couldn't care less. I want to be the brand for anyone who dares greatly. 

Q: Okay, but what are the engagement numbers so far?

A: We are seeing our most positive response for the breaking campaign among younger audiences, those born after 1980. The second best is for Generation X, born after '64, and the least positive is for Boomers. The Boomers didn't like the music [for the “Dare Greatly” anthem ad]. 

Q: I liked the spot (featuring, among others, Jason Wu, Steve Wozniak, and Anne Wojcicki of genomics startup 23andMe). I spent some time online trying to find out who was singing

A: Edith Piaf. You are in good company. Her appeal is trans-generational. We have seen people ask “Does anyone know this artist? When is she going on her next concert tour?” Well, the lady died in 1963. What I find so amazing is her appeal for younger audiences. 

Q: And you are also featuring people like [Apple co-founder] Steve Wozniak, not exactly a Millennial. 

A: That piece had one million downloads on YouTube alone within 24 hours after airing. The average piece of Cadillac communications on YouTube gets maybe 10,000 hits over a couple of months. 

Q: I'm a bit skeptical about campaigns that focus on someone's talent or achievements as a proxy for a brand. 

A: Yes, but people are not brand ambassadors. There's a famous competitor in Detroit using a Hollywood celebrity. This is exactly what we don't want. Yes, we are just featuring people, but people who dare greatly. We aren't showing them driving our cars. We are talking about them, what they have achieved and how [they have done so]. Like [New York-based fashion designer for the likes of Michelle Obama] Jason Wu said, his mother let him play with dolls, and from there he becomes a huge hit in fashion. They are just people who embody this daring spirit, and I like that we are not saying they are Cadillac customers. These are not testimonials. 

Q: How are you extending into experiential?

A: Experiential isn't about having a car on display at a tennis tournament, or a golf tournament. I don't want to occupy the old automotive world when it comes to experiential. I want Cadillac to focus on sponsorships and events and cooperations where there is a conceptual link: design, fashion, music, Hollywood are in my eyes far more credible, and we can own them because we are a design icon, we are a fashion icon, we are a part of Hollywood. I want to go to design shows, architectural fairs, fashion shows, and I really think we reach a younger audience more skeptical of the automotive industry in general that way.

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