Cadillac Seeking New Ad Agency To Deliver

GM has put its Cadillac ad account in review. I wonder what Mad Men’s Don Draper would do? As a fan of AMC’s

GM has put its Cadillac ad account in review. I wonder what Mad Men’s Don Draper would do?

As a fan of AMC’s “Mad Men”, show, I would love to see the agency get involved in a full-scale pitch for a car account. How about Cadillac for next season? Maybe GM can persuade Caddy to take out a flock of ads in exchange for the story placement.

The story. Yes, just what is Cadillac’s story these days? That is the issue confronting GM and the agencies pitching the business must sort out.

As my colleague David Welch pointed out recently in an article, “GM Must fashion Another Cadillac Renaissance,” the brand is on a “knife edge,” as BMW’s U.S. chief James O’Donnell stated in the article. GM’’s bankruptcy and its pull-back on leasing this year has seriously hurt Caddy’s business.

Ad Age reported that current agency Modernista!, Boston, which has handled the business for a few years, is being cut (the agency declined to participate in the review) for financial reasons. An independent agency, Modernista! is said to charge higher fees than GM’s Interpublic Group and Publicis Agencies.

I don’t buy that as the biggest reason. To keep a car account, I’m willing to bet Modernista! Could have reorganized its compensation to fit the new GM. The agency was handpicked without a review by former Cadillac marketing chief Liz Vanzura. And GM’s departing head of sales Mark LaNeve, who lost his marketing duties in August, was a big supporter. Modernista! lost its boosters in Detroit. It happens.

Cadillac has some terrific vehicles. The CTS is as good as any competitor in its class I have driven. The new CTS wagon and SRX crossover—-first rate. Top Drawer. The giant Escalade SUV, if that’s the kind of vehicle you want, is also terrific. Best in class.

Caddy still has a brand hangover from years of selling flabby Sevilles, Devilles and Fleetwoods. Modernista! Actually did a nice job of vaulting Caddy forward with some distinctive looking ads and messages.

Take this spot featuring actress Kate Walsh:

This ad and others like it were memorable and well targeted.

Less successful, I thought, was this recent ad. It shows the newest Cadillacs screaming across a desert as if they are space-rockets being shot across the desert by NASA mission control.

The trouble with this spot is that it looks too much like advertising. We are very much in a post-advertising marketing climate. The idea of showing off four hot new cars, which are the heart of the new Cadillac, is a good idea. I’m just not sure yet another space-related idea was the way to go. Lincoln has been playing in this area. Saab before that. Trite.

Caddy needs entirely new ideas to change the conversation about the brand, not a new ad campaign.

GM is fighting for its life and survival. Cadillac is critical, along with Chevrolet, to make that future happen.

It’s as good a time as any to see what resources are out there that know how to operate in the new world. Cadillac doesn’t just need a new ad agency, it needs a new thought process; a partner to redefine the problem and the solution.

In the movie “Tin Men,” aluminum siding salesmen think of their Cadillacs as the badge of their success. Every one of them has a Caddy, all of them with tail-fins. But the salesman/character played by Richard Dreyfus realizes by the end of the film, as he sees a Volkswagen Beetle drive by, that the era of the tail-finned Caddy and the cheap Tin Man is over. He starts thinking about getting himself a Volkswagen franchise.

I don’t think Caddy’s time is over. The product is too good. But we are seeing Saturn go to the automotive brand museum despite one of its models, the Aura, capture North American Car of the Year award three years ago. Great product isn’t enough. Smart management and a big idea is necessary too.

I’d look for GM to engage The Martin Agency, Fallon Worldwide and possibly Deutsch and Wieden & Kennedy to be their new idea factory. Let the pitches begin. Paging Don Draper!

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