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.
Cprescott on Apr 13, 2020
It is a wonder how Cadillac tried so hard to commit suicide. The downsized 1970's and early 1980's cars were fine vehicles until they put in engines that were horrific. I never understood why good engines were not installed in Cadillacs. The start of the decline of Cadillac was the half-baked v-8-6-4 engine and then the infamous Northstar engine that would either grenade itself by 100k miles or turn your driveway into an oil slick from all the leaks. And then when that was resolved in a later era, then came the non-luxury of hard plastics from the Arts and Scientology era that turned Cadillac into Cadihack where each vehicle came predented from the factory and you could nearly hose out the interior because of all the cheap vinyl and hard plastics that looked even cheaper than a similar era Kia. I'm not sure what Cadihack is now, but it cannot hold a candle to my late employer's lipstick red and white vinyl roof and white leather Sedan Deville from 1978 that still showed Cadillac knew what luxury was. I was a teenager and got to drive it a couple times to go get lunch for the retired Commander in the Navy who had 16 rental houses I helped to maintain.
Arthur Dailey on Apr 13, 2020
Cadillac was the sine qua non of domestic vehicular luxury for the first 25 years after WWII. Although Lincoln and Imperial made some very good cars they did not enter the public conscious in the same way as Cadillac. Then a number of factors let to its lose of status. 1) GM started putting sales volume ahead of prestige. As we have seen with M-B, chasing volume results in a lessening of quality and status. 2) With the advent of the Brougham Era, Lincoln unveiled the Mark III and the 'broughamed' Town Car. They quickly became the symbol of luxury cars for that era. The French Connection, Cannon, Starsky and Hutch, MacMillan and Wife, even DeNiro's character in the Irishman. The rich or the 'bad guy' drove a Lincoln. 3) As J. Baruth has written, GM allowed their other divisions to compete with Cadillac. My Old Man was able to get our mother one of the newly downsized Chev Caprices that had the same luxury features as his Eldorado. 4) Then came downsizing. What defined luxury changed. We now saw trend setters such as the Ewing women in Dallas driving German vehicles, in Texas. 5) The last 'great' domestic luxury vehicle of the 20th century was probably the LSC. Cadillac tried with the STS but the shortcomings of the N* engine curtailed that. Even the very good CTS-V vehicles put out by Cadillac failed to capture the public's imagination in the same way as their vehicles of the 50's and 60's.
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