In 1989, Toyota launched a new luxury brand that would go on to largely replace Cadillac as a vernacular term for excellence in luxury. Known as Lexus, this brand has spent the last 20 years making headway in the US market without ever publicly associating itself with its parent brand. Could this strategy have contained a lesson for the brand managers at GM who have spent the same 20 years fretting (or not) about declining Cadillac sales? Apparently so, as BusinessWeek reports that Cadillac is distancing itself from the corporate mothership in hopes of improving Cadillac’s aspirational appeal. And yet, strangely, it’s still not clear that the lesson has actually been learned.
BW spoke with Cadillac Communications boss Nick Twork, who explained that Cadillac’s new independence movement means that:
Cadillac is erasing the GM name from its marketing and dealerships, changing e-mail addresses to @cadillac.com from @gm.com and exiting companywide promotions such as the Red Tag Event
But, it turns out, these first tentative steps away from the GM umbrella were not directly motivated by the relative success of luxury newcomers like Lexus and Infiniti, which were built from the ground-up without reference to their mass-market parent brands. According to Twork, the move was “absolutely” driven by GM’s restructuring. In short, the problem isn’t that Cadillac’s exclusivity is hurt by being perceived as a division of a huge, less-than-universally-admired automaker. Rather, the Government Motors stain likely plays extremely poorly with Cadillac’s core demographics.
BW plays along with the justification, burying any reference to the Lexus counterexample until the last two paragraphs. And not before Susan Docherty weighs in with some patented off-message cluelesness:
Consumers, in their minds, can separate out the corporation versus the brands. They can separate “Hey, I can still fall in love with a CTS coupe, but I may not necessarily be happy with the fact that General Motors had to go through bankruptcy.”
Or, apparently, not. Meanwhile, Docherty isn’t the only soldier in the Cadillac Army that’s marching out of step with the new drumbeat. The very last vehicle GM will ever sell with the “Mark of Excellence” GM logo attached is, get this, the brand-new Cadillac SRX. Will the slightly more-subtle chiclet fall victim to a mid-cycle refresh? Will it be replaced with new fender flair in honor of Cadillac’s newfound independence? Or will it continue on until a replacement comes out sometime in the next three to six years? Instead of answers, our emails to Cadillac have yielded only an invitation to:
Please join Cadillac the evening of March 30, 2010 for a reception at [get your own damn invite]. Hors d’oeuvres, product news and a glimpse at Cadillac’s new marketing efforts will be served.
But then, consumers have had 20 years to associate Cadillac with GM while a seemingly independent Lexus ate its lunch at the dealerships. Perhaps we’ll have to wait a little longer to find out if Cadillac’s new independence extends as far as the badging on its vehicles.