Bring Back National Cadillac Week
With no reason to risk going outside and industrial news at an all-time low, I’ve retreated into curiously dry hobbies as a way to maintain my sanity.
A substantial portion of my time has been devoted to parsing through old automotive catalogs and marketing materials. As someone who is notoriously difficult to shop for, dusty paperbacks that can easily be found for a nickel at any estate sale turned out to be ideal gifts… and I amassed a sizable collection. Over the weekend, I found myself going through vintage television spots — noticing they’re quite a bit different from the ads we encounter today.
While automotive marketing has evolved through the ages, there was a long stretch of time where companies basically just filmed a car driving around as a disembodied voice explained its strengths. This was back when advertisements featured voice-overs telling you that “ Quality is Job 1” at Ford, or a choir of voices joyfully acknowledging that they absolutely loved what Toyota was doing for them.
Today, I’m celebrating the 30th anniversary of a totally mundane promotion from 1990 called “National Cadillac Week.” While the free AVIS rental and cash back on your purchase weren’t unusual (then or now), I happened to encounter it exactly three decades after it originally aired — as if destined by fate. It was a glaring reminder of how much car ads have changed in that time period.
Assuming you haven’t fallen down the rabbit hole of accompanying vintage commercials, you’ll note that National Cadillac Week isn’t all that compelling. But it was direct and reminiscent of all ads from the era. That’s pretty much true across the board. Even Mercedes-Benz spots followed the standard formula everyone else was using. A car crests an out-of-focus hill, then the announcer chimes in to explain why you should buy it instead of something else.
Today’s ads have abstracted this basic blueprint, though it’s especially noticeable among luxury brands. The voice-over is still there, sometimes, but typically pipes up near the end of the spot to deliver an inspirational message about what it means to be truly alive. There’s also an impressive lack of information. Whereas the old ads frequently tended to focus on the latest incentive program (some things never change), they also seem more prone to offering actual details about the product in question. It’s almost as if their creators were trying to anticipate consumer needs.
Let’s take a look at the latest from Cadillac and Mercedes for a bit of contrast, starting with the domestic nameplate.
While light years better than the previous “ Dare Greatly” and “ Rise Above” campaigns, the new “Make Your Way” spots still fall into the same trap of placing a relaxed emphasis on product. Much of the smug, weapons-grade cringe has been removed. But the cars we’re supposed to be pining for are zipping around quicker than eyes can follow. There appears to be a race of some kind and Cadillac is running unopposed. Meanwhile, the camera darts around while cuts are made in quick succession. We never linger on any single model for long and learn precious little about them.
Now let’s examine the latest from Mercedes-Benz.
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