Cadillac: Rebuilding the American Dream

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The 113-year-old automotive luxury brand revs up its marketing strategy to compete in a modern market.

Over the past several years the world has forgotten to dream Cadillac. To some extent, even those of us who work at the storied, 113-year-old brand have forgotten. Cadillac was once known as the “standard of the world”; now, it's often defined in the past tense: it was the symbol of the American dream; it was an icon of automotive luxury.

The unintended complacency that came with decades of Cadillac being on top coincided with the rise of the new icons of automotive luxury: Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz. A cycle of product-driven communications and heavy discounting ensued as we fought to earn back our rightful place as the original American luxury brand.

Returning Cadillac to a place of leadership in the global automotive luxury market takes focus, continuity, and consistency. But more than that, it takes a resurgence of the emotion and passion that's been at the core of Cadillac since its inception—purely American qualities with which the Germans simply cannot compete. It takes more than a superior product; it takes the ability to inspire.

We've already made strides to make this inspiration a reality. Much has been made of the $12 billion investment that will allow for the launch of eight new Cadillac products by 2020. Additionally, announcing that Cadillac was moving from its birthplace of Detroit to New York City raised more than a few eyebrows. Both of these bold actions are grounded in our brand ethos, which was brought to life earlier this year in the Cadillac relaunch campaign, “Dare Greatly.”

These were all significant steps, but they were only the beginning of a greater and more comprehensive effort to re-shape an iconic brand into one that strikes a fresh resonance with luxury consumers. Cadillac will, and must, remain true to itself and its great heritage but position itself in a culturally relevant way.

To do that, we have to create a world that is “unmistakably Cadillac”—one that begins with our products, but is expressed through consistent and compelling communications that provoke reappraisal. “Dare Greatly” was launched as much for our consumers—past, present, and future—as it was for us. It's a rallying cry, grounded in passion and the boldness of the American spirit that ignited Cadillac's transformation.

We have to take some risks. We're shifting away from traditional media and toward digital platforms. A 30-second television spot will still have a place in building awareness, but we also consider the realities of how today's (and tomorrow's) buyers are consuming media—and how it is influencing them when it comes to major purchase decisions like that of a car.

Luxury buyers, in particular, are placing a much greater emphasis on experiences. Ownership is no longer that only choice when it comes to a vehicle. Cadillac will place higher bets on experiential marketing, leveraging our partners to provide once-in-a-lifetime experiences that just happen to be made possible by a car brand. We will also look at different models that present alternatives to traditional vehicle ownership, but still require a strong and well-defined brand.

The change is not just in marketing communications, mix, and strategy. With the move to Manhattan, we made a deliberate decision to place Cadillac at the epicenter of creativity to focus on reinventing the brand. The move also helped us attract top talent who want to be part of a “start-up” culture—one that embraces the same entrepreneurialism, progressive thinking, and risk-taking that we celebrate in the Dare Greatly mind-set. The new team balances automotive experience and expertise with luxury goods and service experience.

And the new team understands that relaunching a luxury brand requires bravery and provocation. I encourage them to break rules and rethink conventions.

While early results from our communications efforts have been positive—especially among younger groups like Gen X and Y—I often remind the team that turning around a brand will take time. We're running a marathon, not a sprint. It's easy to get distracted by the day-to-day pressures in an industry that's still driven primarily by a monthly sales target. We need to constantly remind ourselves not to just do something because “that's how it was always done.”

This is an historic moment for Cadillac, and creating a powerful brand takes herculean patience and discipline. It all begins with a mind-set that remains true to our roots but, ultimately, will transform our culture, product, and—if we do this right—the Cadillac brand. We all need to dream Cadillac once again.

About the author:

Uwe Ellinghaus is CMO, Global Cadillac—leading all brand strategy and marketing efforts for Cadillac worldwide.  Ellinghaus joined Cadillac in  2014 to further the brand's ongoing expansion and development. He has years of leadership positions with strong luxury brands, including luxury automotive brands such as BMW and Rolls-Royce. He joined Cadillac from Montblanc International, where he served as EVP of marketing and sales from late 2012 to 2013.


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