Bring Back National Cadillac Week

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
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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4 of 24 comments
  • Cprescott 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.

    • Featherston Featherston on Apr 13, 2020

      The factors you cite were part of it, but Cadillac's decline began in the mid-'60s when they started chasing volume. Sales went up; quality, resale values, and prestige went down. That's not to say the decline was some sort of quick, absolute phenomenon. E.g., even in the late '80s, Cadillacs had a nicer column-mounted shift lever than did Chevrolets. I don't mean that as a backhanded compliment either. Execute details like that often enough and for the right price, and you've got yourself a good luxury brand.

  • Arthur Dailey 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.

    • Featherston Featherston on Apr 14, 2020

      +1, Arthur - #3 was a big one for a lot of customers. The downsized Caprices really gave away very little in comfort and convenience to the contemporary de Villes when equipped with a/c, power windows & locks, and cruise control.

  • Tassos The EQS is the best looking BEV, better than even the only Tesla I would ever consider (the S) and more luxurious inside etc etcThe self driving features will come in handy when I'm 110 and my eyesight and reaction times start to suffer.But that's four decades away, and only Tim recommends 40 year old "used cars"
  • Tassos "Baby, Baby light my fire!""Oh God please give me a Kia Forte" --Janis Joplin
  • Tassos The fugly looks of any Subaru, and especially the non-sporty non-elegant, fugly, low-rent looks and interior of the WRX are alone a sufficient turnoff to never want to own one.One can be a 100% car enthusiast but ALSO demand a beautiful AND luxurious vehicle one can be truly proud of and which makes one very happy every time one drives it.The above is obviously totally foreign to Subaru Designers and managers.Αnd who cares if they sell all they make? this is 100% worthless bragging, since they hardly make ANY. ALL of Subaru's models together, all dozen of them, sell less than the top selling Toyota or Honda or even Tesla sells. ANd furthermore, if you have the intellectual horsepower to understand it, bulldude, which I am 99% sure you sure as hell do not, it is NOT about the sales units, it is not even about the sales revenue.It is all about the P R O F I T S.Am I going slow enough for you, bulldude?
  • Thehyundaigarage Am I the only one that sees a Peugeot 508?
  • Lou_BC I realized it wasn't EV's burning by the absence of the usual suspects.