How To Refresh A 'Cadillac Brand'

I love brands and I love helping to create and define them.  To do it well, you have to be paying attention.  In the immortal words of Yogi Berra, “You observe a lot just by watching.”  

My favorite example of how to do it right is Cadillac and the brand refresh it executed way back 2003 when it launched its “Breakthrough” campaign featuring Led Zeppelin’s iconic “Rock N Roll” in their ads.  

I recall that campaign vividly because it came as such a shock to me.  I grew up in a generation where Cadillacs were what your grandparents drove.  They were reliable, big, bulky boats with wheels that were everywhere and yet were never considered cool.  

The commercial launched with pounding drums of John Bonham and the growing guitars of Jimmy Page and a Cadillac sedan barreling through a desert salt bed.  There was a more “everyday” version of the commercial that ran in non-Super Bowl placements, and it was just as jarring.  Cadillac based its new branding on the shoulders of rock and roll giants coupled with a dramatic new  design for its cars.  



My first reaction was that it didn’t make sense, but quickly changed my opinion with the ads’ frequency and consistency and the car’s design.  The design of the new cars delivered on a promise that was made in the sound of the music.  It was the perfect example of synergy between promise and experience.

Fast-forward to this past June when I was strolling past a parking lot with my family enroute to grabbing dinner. We noticed a new ell-electric Cadillac.  I can’t say what model it was, and I am pretty sure there are not a lot of them, but this was a plug-in Cadillac and it was brand new and it turned some heads.  

I live in an area where every third car is a Tesla, so electric cars are not abnormal, but seeing one from an iconic American brand is.  

My reaction was “of course,  why wouldn’t Cadillac be pushing into an electric future?”  That’s an innovative brand.  

Therein lies the impact of the brand refresh from 2003.  Cadillac tried to specifically shift its image from that of a worn-out, old-generation automaker to an envelope-pushing innovator that wins awards and consumers’ hearts at the same time.  It was able to reposition to gain brand momentum.  Consumers who are paying attention will automatically connect with the new ideas and see the value of a brand like Cadillac bringing them to market.

Cadillac succeeded where many other companies have not by reinvigorating its brand. They surely spent a lot of time and money in doing so, but at the core was a simple truth: It promised something different and they delivered on it. You can change the logo, update the font, redesign the look but the promise you make when you install that change has to match the actual delivered and in this case it did.

Refreshing a brand is an important exercise and something that should be done by all departments, not just by marketing.  Are you looking at your brand refresh holistically?

2 comments about "How To Refresh A 'Cadillac Brand'".
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  1. Peter Engel from GoToPEngel Marcom Services, October 2, 2019 at 1:22 p.m.

    Cadillac may have had some sales momentum from the Escalade and CTS through the mid-2000s, but the brand is severely damaged now.

    GM just brought Cadillac back to Michigan after a disastrous move to NYC. At least 6 luxury makes are ahead of Cadillac in consumer consideration. Most of their cars are known for being unreliable and inferior to their top competitors. They've just spent $12 billion on a product blitz which could have been spent elsewhere. Consumer Reports just belittled the Cadillac brand as "damaged" in a test of the new ST6 which is pretty uncommon for them. I don't know what's more indiciation of how far the name has fallen.

    The marketers may come up with new "brand energy," but that won't overcome poor consumer perception of actual Cadillac products.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, October 2, 2019 at 4:29 p.m.

    My 2009 Cadillac is all well and good and should be good for another 10 years. No need to replace this very solid car. As for electric, all is applauded however the shift is going to be slower in 90% of the rest of the country with NO electrical outlets. Buildings - condo, apartments - are not going to spend that much money yet. Neither are row houses or the congested cities or areas with weather catastrophied areas can afford to depend soley on electric. Looking forward to solar power energy first $ as an investment.

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