Sunday, June 21, 2009
Although ownership of a Cadillac was for decades widely considered a part of the ‘‘American Dream,’’ Cadillac Motor, a division of General Motors, saw its share of the luxury-car market begin to decline in the 1990s. The company also saw the rise of a new subcategory in the luxury-car field, the entry-level luxury car (or ‘‘entry-lux’’), exemplified by new models such as the Lexus and new, lower-priced Mercedes models. Cadillac responded to these trends by taking a risk in 1997 with a new entry-lux model, the Catera. The sporty, comparatively affordable Catera was unlike anything Cadillac had ever sold before. It was also the first Cadillac made entirely overseas (in Germany). To launch this groundbreaking new model, Cadillac implemented a marketing campaign unlike any it had done before, calling the Catera ‘‘The Caddy that Zigs.’’ The campaign—which included a variety of television and print advertisements—used humor and clever copy to communicate to car buyers that the Catera was a whole new kind of Cadillac. The campaign even used a quirky red cartoon duck as a prominent symbol, another move that broke with the more staid marketing usually associated with Cadillac.
The campaign received harsh criticism from media and auto-industry critics. Surveys also showed the public had a mixed reaction to the campaign (especially the duck). But Cadillac executives were pleased with the sales figures for Catera’s first year, and they reported that the campaign overall had made a positive impression on the public’s traditional perceptions of the car maker.
Since its early days Cadillac was a company that specialized in luxury cars. Eventually car buyers identified the Cadillac name as synonymous with American luxury cars (‘‘Cadillac’’ even appears in some dictionaries with the definition ‘‘luxurious’’). Marketing campaigns emphasized the car maker’s tradition and quality and were aimed at an older, wealthy, male demographic. But the emergence of luxury cars from foreign manufacturers made a dent in Cadillac’s market share. Competitors like Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Lexus gradually eroded Cadillac’s long-time dominance of the luxury field: from 1990 to 1996 Cadillac’s share of the luxury-car market plunged dramatically from 22.2 percent to 14.8 percent.
One of the reasons for the drop was that other car makers were building the popular entry-lux vehicles. Traditional luxury vehicles controlled 52 percent of the overall luxury market in 1991 but only 34 percent four years later. During the same time period, the market for entry-lux cars grew from 25 to 39 percent.
The typical buyer of a Cadillac automobile was male, in his late 50s or 60s, affluent, and usually but not always college-educated. David Nottoli, Cadillac’s Catera brand manager for 1997, said the Catera campaign sought a different market. ‘‘We were looking at the 45–50 age bracket,’’ he said. In addition to this narrow market, Cadillac wanted to expand on its traditional customer base by pursuing more female customers. The car maker was hoping 50 percent of Catera customers would be women. In addition, Cadillac hoped to draw an audience that was almost 100 percent college-educated. Nottoli added that non-General Motors customers were also targeted by the Catera campaign.
According to the Catera Brand Book for Cadillac dealers, ‘‘The target buyer for this car is young enough to be the son (or, just as likely, daughter) of people currently driving DeVilles [a larger, older Cadillac model]. Their definition of luxury bears no resemblance to their parents’ generation. For them . . . BMWs, Volvos, and Infinitis say more than Cadillacs and Lincolns. When it comes to luxury, Cadillac is status quo. And these buyers don’t want status quo.’’
By 1997 Cadillac was increasingly concerned about its decreasing market share as well as the growing popularity of entry-lux autos. The buyers in this new market tended to be younger, more performance-conscious, and more open to automobiles built overseas such as Mercedes-Benz and Lexus. Cadillac executives’ attention was especially drawn to the cases of two competitors’ vehicles launched in the 1990s: The Lexus ES 300, which sold 39,367 units in its first year (1992); and the Mercedes-Benz C class, which sold 23,793 units in its launch year (1994). Cadillac’s Nottoli noted that these cars were introduced with essentially the same marketing strategies traditionally used for upscale automobiles. Television and print ads were geared for an affluent audience, with dignified shots of cars rolling along country roads or displayed in luxurious settings. Cadillac knew it had to pursue a different style of marketing campaign for its Catera, as it wanted to make a major impact in the competitive entry-lux market.
To launch its ambitious Catera campaign Cadillac worked closely with its national advertising agency, the Bloomfield, Michigan, office of the international firm D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles (DMB&B). The car maker spent an estimated $40 million on the campaign. According to Nottoli, Cadillac knew most car buyers saw the company as the manufacturer of serious, luxury automobiles. To challenge this perception, Cadillac wanted to emphasize a lighter side in the Catera campaign. ‘‘We tried to focus on fun,’’ he said.
They started with the campaign’s slogan, ‘‘The Caddy that Zigs.’’ Although auto enthusiasts and Cadillac owners had long called the cars by the ‘‘Caddy’’ abbreviation, the company had never used the shortened term in any advertisement before the Catera. This simple break with tradition was an important one for Cadillac, as the company wanted to emphasize that the Catera was different from any car the maker had produced before. When Cadillac and DMB&B faced the issue of which symbol or spokesperson to use for the campaign, they turned to the family crest of the founder of Cadillac (the crest is on each automobile made by the company). That crest featured six ducks—actually mythical birds called merlettes that are similar to ducks. In the crest all six ducks face left. Cadillac officials decided to play off the crest—a symbol rooted in years of family and company tradition—for its Catera ‘‘spokesperson.’’ Cadillac and DMB&B creative teams decided to turn one of the ducks in the crest to the right. The idea was that the duck ‘‘zigged’’ away from Cadillac tradition, just like the Catera. Thus the slogan ‘‘The Caddy that Zigs’’ was born. The use of a cartoon duck—red, no less—was meant to emphasize fun and irreverence, Nottoli said. Cadillac knew the use of a cartoon animal to promote a luxury car was not without its risks, but the company also knew it had to take chances to reach its younger target market. ‘‘The goal of the duck was to show how luxury and fun could come together,’’ Nottoli said. ‘‘It was representative of a whole attitude.’’
The 1997 Catera campaign got off the ground in January with a spot in a prime advertising location: the Super Bowl. The Catera spot, featuring the red duck and model Cindy Crawford, generated quite a bit of attention—not all positive—for the car maker. Several more television spots followed, all emphasizing the duck and a younger, irreverent attitude. One full-page magazine advertisement played on this attitude with a paean to ‘‘duck logic’’: ‘‘Ducks think differently than you and me. They would never forget a birthday. They have never sponsored a negative political ad. They avoid talk shows like the plague. They dance in the rain and take great pains not to walk around the puddles.’’ Ads later in the year noted the performance features of the car. One 30-second television spot was set on a curving, mountain road. The Catera drove along with two competing entrylux cars following. The voiceover announced, ‘‘You follow the leader. You follow the pack. Then you get a Catera. Suddenly, you don’t follow anything.’’ The background music was upbeat techno-pop, and the spot closed with the ‘‘Caddy that Zigs’’ slogan and the duck. In a unique promotional move, Cadillac displayed Cateras at an Atlanta mall for five weeks in January and February 1997. Cadillac-trained specialists were on hand to answer questions about the cars, and special kiosks were set up for curious shoppers. The idea was to expose the Catera to the public in an environment not traditionally associated with automobiles, with the goal of interesting consumers who might not normally consider buying a Cadillac in test driving a Catera. Figures showed about 70,000 people visited the mall display. Other innovative direct marketing techniques were employed. One Cadillac dealer took Cateras to golf and tennis tournaments, events populated by affluent, younger car buyers. The same dealer also used Cateras to taxi people to and from National Symphony Orchestra performances. In another unique move, a six-page foldout ad, which ran in fashion magazines, tied the Catera’s styling to the work of trendy fashion designers.
There were strong, divergent views on how successful the 1997 Catera campaign was. For Nottoli, the campaign was a winner for bottom-line reasons: the Catera sold well in its launch year. ‘‘In the end you judge the outcome based on results,’’ Nottoli said. Those results included the sale of 25,411 Cateras in the vehicle’s first year, surpassing Cadillac’s sales goal of 25,000. But Nottoli remarked that sales figures were not the only measure of success for the Catera campaign. He noted that the age of the typical Catera buyer—a factor that had been a crucial part of the marketing strategy—was lower than that of other Cadillac buyers. While Cadillac and industry experts differed on what the median Caterabuyer age was (while Cadillac claimed the median age was 52 years old, 13 years younger than the median age for traditional Cadillac buyers, auto industry observers claimed the age was closer to 58), Nottoli said the undeniable fact was that the car was bought by younger consumers.
The gender makeup of Catera buyers was also promising, Nottoli said. About 51 percent of Catera buyers were male, which was right on target for Cadillac’s goal of having an equal number of female and male buyers. This gender equity was much different from the typical Cadillac customer base, and Nottoli said the Catera marketing campaign played a big part in drawing female customers.
In addition, Nottoli said the Catera was successful as a ‘‘conquest vehicle,’’ an auto industry term for a car that brings in buyers who had previously not purchased a vehicle from that brand. In the case of the Catera, the campaign helped draw non-General Motors buyers into the Cadillac showrooms, another of the campaign’s key goals.
While Nottoli considered the 1997 Catera campaign a success, he acknowledged problems, most notably the red duck. While Cadillac originally adopted the duck as a spokes-symbol to emphasize fun and irreverence, the cartoon character soon began receiving too much attention. ‘‘We couldn’t get people off the duck,’’ Nottoli said. ‘‘People took it too far. They had a love-hate relationship with the duck.’’
Criticism of the Catera campaign was consistent and strong. From the beginning of the campaign, viewers were critical of the use of the duck. They also questioned whether the target market would accept a Cadillac. USA Today’s fourth annual survey of advertising agency creative directors reported it as one of the worst campaigns of 1997, writing, ‘‘More than a third of the panelists name Catera as their first choice for 1997’s worst ad. Cadillac wants to attract younger viewers to its $30,000 car, but ad executives say it was a mistake to link a luxury brand in a commercial with a wise-cracking cartoon duck.’’ In addition, USA Today’s Ad Track survey reported that only 9 percent of consumers surveyed liked the Catera duck (below the 22 percent average) and only 11 percent found the ad campaign very effective (compared to a 25 percent average).
Cadillac dealers were also critical of the campaign, complaining that the Catera campaign focused too much on fun and not enough on the car’s features. ‘‘We don’t need a quack as our spokesman,’’ Jacques J. Moore, president of a Cadillac dealership, told the Washington Post. ‘‘The Catera is a heck of a good car, an excellent car. We need an advertising campaign that sticks to the merits of the car, that emphasizes the quality of the Cadillac name.’’
Nottoli responded by saying that Cadillac was aware of the campaign’s weaknesses. He added that his one regret was the campaign was a little too ‘‘silly’’ and not sophisticated enough. But, he added, ‘‘We took a risk. I’m glad we did.’’
Nottoli said focus groups conducted by Cadillac showed solid awareness of the Catera, but that awareness did not necessarily bring buyers to the point where they bought the car. He added that many focus group participants did not consider the Catera a Cadillac; they considered it to be a different car altogether. Cadillac owners also did not consider the Catera a ‘‘real’’ Cadillac, but rather a ‘‘little Cadillac,’’ he said.
Nottoli said this was part of the ‘‘Cadillac baggage’’ the Catera marketing campaign fought to overcome. Cadillac’s traditional image as a maker of big luxury cars for older people played a big part in the acceptance of the ‘‘Caddy that Zigs’’ message. ‘‘We didn’t start with a clean slate,’’ Nottoli said. ‘‘The Cadillac baggage hurt us.’’ In 1998 Catera advertising downplayed the duck and emphasized the car’s performance features. The duck only appeared at the end of ads as an icon. Catera sales for 1998 were up considerably over sales in 1997, and the age of Catera buyers continued to decrease, Nottoli said, demonstrating the effectiveness of the ‘‘Caddy that Zigs’’ campaign.