Red Carpet Branding: Cadillac Casts Iconoclasts for Dare Greatly Oscars Campaign

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Cadillac Dare Greatly ad Richard Linklater

Cadillac unveils its long-awaited new TV commercials during The Academy Awards telecast on ABC tonight, elaborating on its new “Dare Greatly” tagline and positioning that global chief marketing officer Uwe Ellinghaus previewed for brandchannel‘s Dale Buss last week.

The ads (watch below) highlight the bold accomplishments of a quintet of very different high-achieving individuals, including Oscar-nominated Boyhood director Richard Linklater, and then draping their unapologetic, entrepreneurial and even iconoclastic attitudes over a Cadillac brand that is in dire need of resuscitation. Oh yes, and the first look at the new CT6 full-size luxury sedan.

The anthemic, first and most impressive ad for Cadillac is set—appropriately and cinematically—over Edith Piaf’s iconic “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien” (recalling Marion Cotillard’s Oscar-winning portrayal of the singer in La Vie en Rose). [more]

The description: “Only those who dare drive the world forward #DareGreatly

Unfolding against a downtown New York City backdrop, “The Daring: No Regrets” spot showcases the accomplishments of five very diverse people who have dared to shake up their fields. 

• Richard Linklater, the American film director and screenwriter whose most celebrated work, Boyhood, is up for Best Picture and Best Director this evening

Jason Wu, the Taiwanese-Canadian fashion designer who created dresses for both inaugurals for First Lady Michelle Obama

Anne Wojcicki, co-founder and CEO of the personal DNA startup 23andMe

Njeri Rionge, the Kenyan entrepreneur who founded WananchiOnline, the Internet service provider that brought the web to East Africa

• Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak, whose quote (“I’ve always felt that an innovator’s work is never finished”) was featured in a banner ad on the Wall Street Journal today.

As Cadillac puts it, “We celebrate the daring, whose passion and vision have reshaped their industries, our lives, and our future.”

The swelling soundtrack by Piaf “sets an emotional atmosphere,” Uwe Ellinghaus, Cadillac’s chief marketing officer, told brandchannel in our conversation last week. “It’s music that is big.”

If the roster of featured individuals, he said, risks offending some traditional Caddy customers, “That’s exactly what I want. I want people to say, ‘Look how much Cadillac’ has changed.” And if Linklater and Boyhood win tonight, so much the better.

Overall, with three spots (“The Arena: Dare Greatly,” below, and another spot featuring Wozniak) shown four times in-show, Cadillac’s new campaign bows “with more storytelling and emotionalization, more entertainment, not just information,” he added.

The Cadillac ads during the 87th Annual Academy Awards on ABC comprises a big moment for the General Motors-owned luxury brand, whose US sales fell by more than 6 percent last year and whose marque has become indistinct and lackluster as German rivals, in particular, have come to occupy the pole position in the minds of American luxury-auto consumers.

Cadillac executives desperately want to change that, especially among the new generation of premium customers who have crusty remembrances of Cadillac—or who don’t think of the brand at all. That’s why one ad reads, “How dare a 112-year-old carmaker reinvent itself? Only those who dare drive the world forward.”

It also includes the first public reveal of the new Cadillac high-end sedan, CT6, prowling New York City. The car, the initial model in a planned $12 billion flurry of new hardware for Cadillac over the next several years, will be unveiled at the New York International Auto Show in a few weeks.

For now, Cadillac’s focus is squarely on reshaping its brand, and not for any particular demographic.

“The advertising industry always wants to talk about target groups,” Ellinghaus said. “But at the very end, I want everyone to change their perception of Cadillac. I don’t care about demographics. It’s a campaign about an attitude, not a certain lifestyle.

“We wanted to break through the clutter with executions, not simple product shots, and play with the interactions between people and cars,” he explained. “You can’t imagine the German (luxury auto) brands doing something like this, because (this campaign) is more human-driven and ingenious and less technology-obsessed.”

Speaking of the choice of people who embody “dare greatly,” Ellinghaus said, in the first ad “we did not simply want to feature people that were successful, but rather game-changers, who did not accept the status quo of their businesses and challenged conventions, just as we at Cadillac want to challenge the conventions in automotive luxury.”

The campaign, which Lincoln tried to subvert with some sly search engine marketing, also seeks to “challenge the perception that the focus of our communication are the stereotypical white males climbing up the social ladder that you find in automotive advertising all the time.”

Ellinghaus added that Cadillac wants “to be a brand for all people who dare greatly. We are contemporary luxury, which means we are inclusive, not exclusive or even snobby. Luxury is no longer about status, it is about style. And we want to opt-out of the ‘one-upsmanship’ in luxury. We want to be a source of inspiration, not admiration. We want people to dream Cadillac again instead of arguing our way into the purchase consideration.”

And certainly, in that way, the controversial Cadillac ad that aired in early 2014, during the Winter Olympics, could be considered classic misdirection. That spot featured actor Neal McDonough celebrating the American work ethic as he walked through a huge home with its backyard pool, also questioning the perceived lack of drive in other nations, probably European ones. He takes off in his Cadillac ELR electric-hybrid sedan.

Cadillac’s YouTube teaser video last week certainly was misconstrued by some pundits. They reacted to it as if all Cadillac planned to do in its new campaign was depict New York street scenes and tie its new attitude to that of President Theodore Roosevelt, whose 1910 speech about “The Man in the Arena,” staring down critics, was quoted at length in the video and was excerpted in outdoor advertising that the brand erected recently in a handful of major US Cities.

In fact, the new campaign at least is helping cement Cadillac’s new association with Gotham. Overall, Ellinghaus said, the ongoing move of the Cadillac brand headquarters from Detroit to Manhattan, and the new ad campaign, are partly about enlarging Cadillac’s appeal beyond its stronghold in the American heartland, to the coasts, where New York and Los Angeles remain the nation’s largest luxury car markets, and where German and Japanese luxury brands largely hold sway now.

The biggest short-term risk for the Oscars campaign might be if viewers perceive the “Dare Greatly” spot with achievers to be too similar to the American Express ad campaign that also debuts this evening, featuring celebrity achievers—and long-time AmEx cardholders—such as actress Mindy Kaling, Aretha Franklin and GoPro founder Nick Woodman.

In any event, Cadillac CEO Johan de Nysschen came out in the last several days to endorse explicitly the approach that Ellinghaus is taking and the importance of resurrecting the Cadillac brand as well as adding some worthy new products, stating on his Facebook page:

“While product fascination provides substance for our ambitions, we must also embark on a philosophical shift to match these ambitions. To once again become the standard for excellence around the globe, we cannot follow any of the examples set by the luxury market ‘establishment,’ nor meekly succumb to preconceived notions about this great brand, or even perceptions about our rivals. We respect each and every one of our competitors, but Cadillac will chart its own course, and we will speak our own truth. Cadillac is on a mission to shatter the status quo.”

And interestingly, Ellinghaus said, for the “Dare Greatly” ad, “all of the protagonists [in the ads] wanted to help resurrect Cadillac … There’s a lot of goodwill for Cadillac in this country.”

Below, watch the profiles of the “Dare Greatly” quintet:

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