Monday, January 12, 2009
Cadillac, a division of Detroit-based auto giant General Motors Corporation (GM), had long been GM’s luxury division, offering higher-priced, roomier vehicles. The brand had been in trouble for several years, however, and saw sales tumble almost 10 percent between 2000 and 2001. One of the primary culprits was Cadillac’s aging customer base. By the early 2000s the average age of Cadillac buyers was 65 years old. Younger drivers tended to prefer European and Japanese luxury automobiles such as BMW, Mercedes, and Lexus. To help reach younger consumers, Cadillac developed the CTS, a sedan that was priced as an ‘‘entry’’ luxury car, along the lines of the BMW 3 Series.
Cadillac earmarked nearly a quarter of a billion dollars for a new campaign, which was implemented by advertising agency D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles. Titled ‘‘Break Through,’’ the campaign revolved around a television spot that premiered at the 2002 Super Bowl. The commercial first invoked the brand’s post–World War II heyday by showing a young professional driving a 1959 Cadillac. The commercial really kicked into gear with the arrival of the new CTS, which passed the 1959 vehicle on the open road while Led Zeppelin’s ‘‘Rock n’ Roll’’ played in the background. Led Zeppelin was one of the most successful rock bands of the 1960s and 1970s, and Cadillac believed that the band’s iconic status and hard-rock sound offered the right combination of nostalgia and edge.
Representing a major achievement for the campaign, the average CTS buyer was 55 years old. Cadillac expanded the ‘‘Break Through’’ campaign for several years, making it a division-wide affair. It became a key component in the company’s efforts to revitalize itself.
Cadillac rose from the remains of the Henry Ford Company. After Ford left the company, his former partners decided to continue in the automobile business. In 1902 they formed the Cadillac Automobile Company. The organization took its name from Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, the founder of the company’s home city of Detroit. In 1909 Cadillac was purchased by General Motors. As the twentieth century progressed, GM grew to become the largest automaker in the world. Cadillac developed into GM’s luxury brand. The vehicle never sold well outside the United States, but within the country Cadillac became synonymous with quality and luxury. By the early 2000s, however, the brand was under pressure from European and Japanese luxury brands such as Lexus and BMW. Between 2000 and 2001 the company’s sales dropped about 9 percent, bringing to 40 percent the sales slide that had been going on since the mid-1980s.
As Cadillac’s customer base aged, the brand began to get a reputation as an ‘‘older’’ company aligned with establishmentarian attitudes. In fact, by 2001 the average Cadillac buyer was 65 years old. This presented a problem for GM because the division’s future depended on attracting baby boomers—people who were in their 40s and 50s in 2001. The company also had trouble getting women to purchase its vehicles. In an effort to reach out to younger drivers, for model year 2003 Cadillac replaced its sagging Catera model with the CTS, which was designed to be sleeker and flashier than the Catera. The CTS operated on a 5-speed transmission, reminiscent of that used in BMWs, and it used a 220-horsepower V-6 engine, which provided a smooth ride. It also offered OnStar, a computerized guidance system.
The new CTS was positioned as an entry-level luxury car for drivers who tended to be well established in their careers. It was intended for professionals and other consumers who were interested in a roomier, more luxurious ride but who were put off by the price of such Cadillac mainstays as the Seville, a midsize luxury vehicle that would soon be phased out in favor of the STS. Cadillac hoped to attract a younger audience for the CTS: baby boomers (those born from World War II to the early 1960s) and members of Generation X (those born in the late 1960s and 1970s).
The company was concerned that Cadillac was being seen by consumers as an older, un-hip brand. Imageconscious boomers tended to shy away from Cadillac in favor of flashy foreign luxury brands such as BMW and Lexus. The company also felt that it needed to appeal to more women drivers. Cadillac wanted to reach those consumers with the CTS, with the anticipation of luring them to buy higher-priced Cadillac models, like the Seville/STS, in the future. While the company enjoyed its reputation as a classic luxury car, it wanted to freshen up that image to help meet the challenges of the early 2000s.
As an affordable, entry-level luxury car, the CTS competed with similarly priced vehicles from other luxury automobile brands. Chief among these was the Lexus ES 300, manufactured by the Toyota Motor Corporation’s Lexus division. The ES 300 was the latest in the popular ES sedan line, first introduced in 1989. Lexus introduced the ES 300 in model year 2003, at the same time that Cadillac brought out its new CTS. Because the ES 300 launch was a major priority for Lexus, the CTS faced intense competition from the beginning. Acura would also be launching a new design of its luxury vehicle the TL, though with less fanfare than Lexus. Other imports that competed directly with the CTS included the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, the Audi A4, the BMW 3 Series, and the Infiniti G35, made by a subsidiary of Nissan. The Ford Motor Company’s Lincoln luxury division was long considered a chief competitor for GM’s Cadillac division. Lincoln, however, did not have a strong entry-level vehicle available at the time. Its flagship model, the Town Car, did draw from some of the CTS’s market share, but it was more expensive and competed more directly with the Cadillac Seville.
Cadillac wanted its new campaign to accomplish many different things. Most importantly, it needed to introduce the CTS successfully. Its other goals were to reverse the previous year’s substantial decline in sales and to burnish the company’s image in relation to import luxury brands. Cadillac enlisted ad agency D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, based in Troy, Michigan, to run its new campaign, which would cost more than $240 million. The agency had worked with Cadillac before and understood the company’s concerns.
To drum up advance publicity, Cadillac offered the CTS for use in The Matrix Reloaded, the 2003 sequel to the popular science fiction movie The Matrix. At the core of the campaign was a series of several television spots, all of which featured the Led Zeppelin song ‘‘Rock n’ Roll.’’ Led Zeppelin, who recorded nine studio albums between 1968 and 1980, was one of the first hard-rock bands and also one of the most enduringly popular. While the band still appealed to younger fans, its original loyal fan base was now comfortably middle-aged.
It was believed that Led Zeppelin’s music possessed a combination of nostalgia and edge that would appeal to baby boomers. The band’s untitled fourth record, featuring the classic-rock staple ‘‘Stairway to Heaven’’ as well as the hard-charging ‘‘Rock n’ Roll,’’ was one of the best-selling records of the 1970s and was seen by some baby boomers as a touchtone of their youth. Because Led Zeppelin had an outlaw reputation in its heyday, attracting various stories and urban myths about its members’ over-the-top parties and decadent lifestyle, the band never acquired a stuffy reputation, even with the passage of time. Also, the band’s classic status—it was in the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame and was generally regarded as the exemplar of the hard-rock genre—helped to underscore Cadillac’s reputation as the classic luxury car. The campaign kicked off during the 2002 Super Bowl on Fox television, at a cost of more than $10 million. The event, which served as the championship game for the National Football League, was typically the most watched television event of the year, and the advertisements that ran during it garnered not only a large audience but also a significant amount of media attention. The Cadillac spot began by showing a young professional driving a vintage 1959 Cadillac. He was stuck in a traffic jam but then managed to turn off down a side street, which led to an open highway. At this point the Led Zeppelin music began, and a CTS appeared in the rearview mirror. A unseen announcer then declared: ‘‘A legend—reborn.’’ Soon the CTS passed the older car and rocketed down the open road, as the music played louder and louder. The spot closed with the tagline ‘‘Break Through.’’
Other brands, including Coors Light beer and
Sheraton Hotels, also used popular 1960s and 1970s songs in their advertisements during this time. As baby boomers aged, they continued to buy products that celebrated 1960s and 1970s recording artists, such as the Beatles Anthology CDs. Led Zeppelin itself had released several popular box sets in the 1990s, and in 2003 it put out a successful collection of live performances recorded in 1972. On January 27, 2004, Cadillac paid to become the official vehicle of Super Bowl XXXVIII, which was broadcast on CBS. Cadillac featured a new 60-second spot called ‘‘Turbulence’’ that expanded upon the ‘‘Break Through’’ campaign. It featured a voice-over by the actor Gary Sinise, who had played a major role in the Oscarwinning 1994 film Forrest Gump. The commercial retained ‘‘Rock n’ Roll’’ on the soundtrack and highlighted four key Cadillac models: the Escalade and SRX sports utility vehicles (SUVs), the XLR, and the CTS. The spot showed the four cars driving in the desert. The CTS, Escalade, and SRX all met at an intersection, creating a swirl of ‘‘turbulence’’ that eventually subsided to reveal an XLR with its top down, driven by a young woman. Cadillac ran three other spots during the broadcast, featuring the Escalade, SRX, and XLR individually. All three ended with the ‘‘Break Through’’ tagline. The musical focus of the spot dovetailed with Cadillac’s decision to offer XM radio in its DeVille, Seville, CTS, and Escalade models. XM was a popular satellite-radio service that provided a diverse array of music, sports, and entertainment channels. The subscription service required a special radio, which Cadillac began to offer for the CTS and other lines.
The CTS did not fare well competing head-on with BMW or Mercedes, but its competitive pricing—it came in at under $35,000—meant that Cadillac could reorient its campaign to take on the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. Otherwise, the campaign met with success. Automobile journalists awarded the CTS the North American Car of the Year at the Detroit-based North American International Auto Show in 2002. Cadillac was pleased with the ‘‘Break Through’’ campaign results. Eventually the company’s website even carried the ‘‘Break Through’’ tagline. As late as 2005, 85 percent of respondents to an internal survey still saw the campaign as fresh and different. Most importantly, within nine months of the ‘‘Break Through’’ campaign’s inception, the average age of CTS buyers was down to 55, a marked improvement over the Cadillac division’s average of 65. Nearly 40 percent of those consumers were women. Internal data showed that approximately half of CTS buyers would not have previously considered purchasing a Cadillac.