Which iconic luxury automobile brand has the drive to finish first?

Ford 2012 Net Income:
$5.7 billion
Cars sold in the U.S. as of 2012: 82,150

GM 2012 Net Income:
$4.9 billion
Cars sold in the U.S. as of 2012: 150,000

In the luxury car market, Lincoln and Cadillac both have deeply rooted reputations. Gary Scheiner, chief creative officer of interactive marketing agency Rosetta, describes Lincoln as “the car of Floridian grandparents and New York car service companies.” While Frank O’Brien, founder of marketing and advertising agency Conversation, points out Cadillac’s “aspirational quality,” which stirs up images of generational vehicles and 1950s movies.

Despite their iconic status, Lincoln and Cadillac’s traditional customers are aging, so the luxury brands have had to revamp their marketing to appeal to younger audiences.

“People who are younger…tend to be very mobile and social, and they use channels differently,” says Stacey McClenathan, CEO of global strategic marketing and communications agency Bee-line Communications and owner of Cadillac and Lincoln models.

But is driving away from their legacies to attract a younger generation a wise choice?

For O’Brien, neither Lincoln nor Cadillacs’s TV spots effectively differentiates their brands from other high-end auto brands. “They were both very vanilla,” he says. “Swap the logo out for Audi, and it might as well be an Audi commercial.”

In fact, O’Brien says that Cadillac’s decision to veer from its heritage in the “Cadillac ATS vs. The World” spots, in which actor Ross Thomas and racing driver Derek Hill speed through treacherous roads throughout the world, actually sends the wrong message.

“I doubt you would name Cadillac as one of the first three brands when you think of cars zipping along the side of a mountain in Spain,” O’Brien says.

McClenathan says Lincoln’s attempt to revitalize its brand among a younger generation via it’s “Introducing the Lincoln Motor Company” TV spot did a better job of emotionally connecting with its target demographic.

“You want people to emotionally commit to you in a commercial, [behave] differently, or see themselves in your brand,” she says. “The way that Lincoln [is] going about it with the demographic is going to resonate more than just, ‘I drive like a maniac on the highway, and that’s why I bought a Cadillac.’”

Yet, Scheiner disagrees with O’Brien and McClenathan, saying the “Cadillac ATS vs. the World” spots are so compelling they “make me actually consider buying a Cadillac.”

By contrast, Lincoln’s TV spots focus on storytelling at the expense of a unified feel. Scheiner points out that the voiceover sounds like it differs from spot to spot. “[Lincoln’s ads] talk to me instead of engage me in the conversation, and everything feels disconnected,” he says.

Our analysts did agree, however, that Cadillac’s website suffered from too much information.

“The Cadillac site is overwhelming with all the choices of car variations,” Scheiner says. “It’s like going to a Greek diner. Unless I know what I’m in the mood for, it takes forever to make a decision.”

Rather than serve as a bulletin board for products, Lincoln’s cleaner interface features easy access to shopping tools, including dealer locations, financing options, and a widget visitors can use to build and price custom models or packaged options, all of which enhance the customer experience by providing utility to potential buyers.

When it comes to smoothly navigating the winding, uneven road of search, Julie Perrigan, SEO manager of digital marketing agency Rise Interactive, says that despite Lincoln’s superior website experience, Cadillac’s content, such as car descriptions and title tags, and quality links gives it a higher SEO score. For example, Perrigan says Cadillac.com has better SEO visibility when it comes to organic search. In addition, she says Lincoln’s lack of an XML sitemap—a list of webpages accessible to crawlers—makes Lincoln’s pages less search-friendly.

“With Google algorithm updates such as Panda and Penguin changing the landscape of SEO, there’s a growing need for quality content and quality links,” Perrigan says. “If the page only contains images, there’s little to nothing the crawlers will see.” Perrigan used Rise Interactive’s tool to detect that Cadillac.com optimizes each page with descriptive URLs for each car model. For instance, the page for the Cadillac ATS luxury sedan has the following URL: ats-luxury-sport-sedan.html. Lincoln doesn’t do this, which Perrigan says affects its search results. “If they were to use keywords in the URL, they could rank better for keywords, as it’s a big ranking factor for Google and Bing,” she says.

Within social media, Cadillac’s advantage is quantity: It’s active on more social channels—including Google+ and Pinterest—than Lincoln, and has more than 1,300,000 Facebook likes, while Lincoln has fewer than 300,000. Yet, O’Brien knows that this statistic is often hollow: quality fans are more important than quantity. And cultivating that quality fan base requires an efficient channel strategy.

“[Channel strategy] has to be purposeful, and [content] needs to be tailored to [each] channel,” O’Brien says. “If you’re launching on Facebook where there’s a lot of interaction, you’re going to have a much different presence and type of page than you would if you were on Pinterest or Tumblr, where people tend to browse more [and] look for pictures [rather] than actually interact.”

Liz Bartek, Rise Interactive’s senior Internet marketing consultant of social media, says Lincoln has more engaged followers on Twitter, demonstrated through Lincoln’s 16% @contacts, or brand responses to individual Twitter users, compared to Cadillac’s 6%.

Like its website, Cadillac’s social channels focus more on products, McClenathan says. For example, Cadillac’s “Throwback Thursday” showcases classic cars and hood ornaments on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Conversely, Lincoln emphasizes lifestyle, including posts about its “Hello, Again” concert and influential people on Facebook and Twitter.

However, where Lincoln seems to lose its identity is with its print ads. Although Scheiner acknowledges Lincoln’s effort to reconnect with customers through its “Introducing The Lincoln Motor Company” magazine ads, he feels as though the ads are disconnected. For example, an ad displaying a grid of redheaded people with the line, “Statistically speaking, they’re all the same person. (But we’re not about statistics)” comes out of left field, he says. “From what I can tell, there is no distinctive look or tone to their print,” he says.

Leslie Beddingfield, PR manager of Internet marketing agency Ajax Union, criticizes the same Lincoln magazine ad for describing the 2013 MKZ’S interior, but only showing the car’s exterior.

However, McClenathan says the main difference between the brands’ ads is how Cadillac and Lincoln define luxury. “For Cadillac, its vision of luxury is wordly and being a desired and aspirational car to own,” McClenathan says. “For Lincoln, the vision is building a car you would want to drive and imaging the design around the function and how the driver wants the car to feel.”

Brand Champion

Cadillac pulls ahead by a nose. However, its heritage gave the classic brand a bit of a head start. “Reintroducing” a brand is never easy, and Lincoln needs to focus on integrating its campaign to create a unified message that travels across all channels and to build a new legacy with younger audiences.

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