Cadillac Reveals Dare Greatly Campaign: 5 Questions with CMO Uwe Ellinghaus

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Cadillac has revealed the underpinning of its looming brand “resurrection” in the lead-up to the debut of its new marketing campaign during ABC’s 2015 Oscars ceremony telecast on February 22. Borrowing from one of the most famous speeches by Theodore Roosevelt, Cadillac’s new global tagline and brand positioning theme will be “Dare Greatly.”

Seeding the new platform, the brand quietly launched a social media and outdoor teaser campaign in recent weeks with the hashtag #DareGreatly, ahead of releasing a video on YouTube that quotes from a key passage in a speech by President Roosevelt commonly known as “The Man in the Arena,” which he delivered in 1910 at the Sorbonne in Paris.[more]

A female voiceover intones the passage while downtown street scenes from New York City, including Soho and Dumbo, are shown from the point of view of someone driving its streets, featuring none of Cadillac’s products.

Cadillac has been teasing “Dare Greatly” with billboards in a handful of major US cities (including one at the iconic corner of Broadway and Houston in Soho) that have been using excerpts from the speech to challenge viewers to think of themselves as principled, indefatigable, impassioned contrarians, because that is what Cadillac is going to do as a brand.

Initially, the outdoor signage only displayed a quote without an author or “owner”; on Sunday, additional copy revealed the brand behind it with the hashtag, #DareGreatly.

“It is not the critic who counts,” the billboards read, quoting Roosevelt. “Credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena … who errs .. because there is no effort without error and shortcoming … who at best knows … of triumph of high achievement … or fails while daring greatly.”

Ahead of officially opening its new NYC headquarters, General Motors’ luxury brand hosted a Men’s Day at New York Fashion Week over the weekend at its new HQ in Soho even while the interior was still taking shape, featuring the fall collection runway show for the up-and-coming (and CFDA Award-winning) Public School label.

It’s all part of Cadillac CMO Uwe Ellinghaus’s bold plan to revitalize the identity of the brand by cloaking it in a particularly American kind of determination, accomplishment and style, even while this is a global campaign.

His conviction has been that, while Cadillac is making its best products ever, sales have been falling short lately in the US because the brand has lapsed into an indistinct identity that hasn’t inspired premium car buyers to come its way instead of going with “safe” choices like rival German brands.

brandchannel spoke with Ellinghaus in the brand’s new hometown New York, just several days before the Feb. 22 debut of the bold (and cinematic) new platform and brand positioning during the 87th Academy Awards on ABC, which will go a long way toward determining the success of his efforts over the last 15 months.

bc: Why do you need to do all of this? What’s wrong with the old Cadillac brand?

Uwe Ellinghaus: We want to resurrect the Cadillac brand and bring it back to greatness. There is a great product-driven change as well, as the brand is embarking on a new journey and investing billions of dollars in new products, including the CT6 [top-end sedan] that we’ll reveal at the New York International Auto Show.

But the Cadillac brand needed to change. We’ve lost some of our old customers and we’re not conquesting enough new customers—because we lack relevance. We need to have a new point of view to show why we’re relevant and to get across how much Cadillac has changed.

You can’t just put product—even great product, which we have—in front of people. If the brand isn’t relevant, people don’t care.

bc: So you’ve come up with an approach that appeals to what you call “entrepreneurialism”—the idea of taking risks and demonstrating the sort of irrepressible drive that compels people to start businesses?

Ellinghaus: Yes, and it’s tapping into the Millennial mindset. Becoming a banker isn’t cool anymore. But if you develop an app, you’re successful. The “corporate world” has lost appeal. The idea to be self-employed is universally shared.

bc: You’ve made a big deal about resurrecting the Cadillac brand in a form that differentiates it from “the Germans.” How are you going to do that?

Ellinghaus: We can allow more passion than the Germans allow, because passion is infectious. The German (auto) brands are ordered and disciplined. They are about technology; we aim for ingenuity.

But is this credible for Cadillac? Yes. Passion is in our blood, in our body, in our birthplace. After all, a 61-year-old founded the brand. And in the Fifties, Cadillac design showed a forward-looking spirit, like the cars wanted to get to the moon!

But we won’t “outdo” luxury; we won’t use “attention to detail” and other craftsmanship cliches. “Luxury” is associated with European brands more than with American brands; we’re not LVMH or Bentley.

Luxury consumption has become so much more intrinsic over the last 20 years. It is about stylistic individuality, not status. And now so many more people have access to luxury goods, with low interest rates [in the US enabling big-ticket purchases].

We want to “outwit” luxury, to dare greatly and create interplay among the brand values of boldness, sophistication and optimism, and yet be inviting and approachable. We want to inspire. We want people to dream Cadillac again instead of demonstrating one-upsmanship such as “more horsepower,” “more torque,” etc.

bc: Hasn’t Cadillac repositioned itself before?

Ellinghaus: Yes. But this is a reinvention, not just a repositioning. And it’s a product renaissance as well. So we have the right to say we are “daring greatly” ourselves. This is not just a “campaign.” We want people to say, “Look how much Cadillac has changed.” And we will get some criticism.

But we already have gotten a very strong endorsement of the campaign: from the US Cadillac dealer council. They have seen the campaign elements already and they are strongly behind what we are doing. And it is they who experience daily what lacking relevance has meant for the Cadillac brand. They have been ready to embrace this change.

bc: Recently, Cadillac has trimmed some sedan prices because you’ve gotten resistance from consumers and dealers; essentially, that’s what happens when you have worthy products but a weak brand, right?

Ellinghaus: Yes. And this campaign will help people acknowledge that the cars deserve the reputations and pricing that they have.

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