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Cadillac dares to reach a younger consumer

Digital activist Morgan Debaun is one of Cadillac's new spokespeople in their "Dare Greatly" campaign.
Source: Cadillac
Digital activist Morgan Debaun is one of Cadillac's new spokespeople in their "Dare Greatly" campaign.

Cadillac wants to be seen as the premium American luxury auto manufacturer, on the same level as its European counterparts like BMW and Audi. To do so, the General Motors company recognizes that it will have to reach out to all customers — especially diverse audiences and millennials.

"There is no denying that all automotive brands need to reach out to generation X and Y, because these two generations will make up about 80 percent of car buyers in the 2020 to 2025 timeframe," said Uwe Ellinghaus, chief marketing officer for Cadillac. "It is a must to reach out to young customers."

During this year's Oscars, Cadillac unveiled its latest ad campaign for its two new vehicles, the XT5 and CT6. While two of the commercials showed off its new cars, the main ads featured nine leaders in their respective fields. The spokespeople were all between the ages of 15 to 25, and six of them are women. Most of them are from multicultural backgrounds.

And the vehicles? A car shows up in the last seconds of the commercial.

"(Young audiences) don't want advertising to be too overt … but rather they want it to intrigue them, fascinate them, capture their imagination, and they want to take it from there," said Ellinghaus. "They then decide if they go primarily online to get in contact with us or not, which is why no call to action is probably the best call to action."


While Ellinghaus is adamant that Cadillac is not trying to lose its core consumer base, he sees great potential in reaching millennials. Market research has shown that baby boomers left Cadillac because they saw it as their grandfather's car, and they wanted to feel "young at heart," he noted. But times are changing.

"If you think about millennials when they were born, they cannot recall that Cadillac was once their grandfather's car because their grandfathers were already in BMWs, Mercedes and Audis from the time they can remember," Ellinghaus said. "This is why I am convinced I have a much higher chance to reach out to these customers than to try and win back elapsed baby boomers that left Cadillac 30 years ago and went to the Germans."

This year's campaign builds on last year's successful "Dare Greatly" ads, which featured the likes of Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. Those commercials also featured very little of the company's vehicles. Ellinghaus said despite no call to action to go to Cadillac.com or test drive a car, the company saw a huge increase in website traffic.

Similarly, this year's campaign will have a robust digital component, including social media clips and an online hub on daregreatly.com where consumers can read more about the stars of the commercial — and maybe stumble across some Cadillac cars.

"You see these young amazing people doing amazing things," said Rokkan CEO John Noe. His agency is handling the digital part of the Cadillac campaign along with the agency of record, Publicis. "This is less about trying to get millennials to buy cars, and more about making the brand feel youthful."

Similarly, manufacturers like Buick and BMW have also been chasing the younger crowd by using celebrities with huge social followings and increasing digital media marketing. Recently, Buick had a Super Bowl ad for the first time this year. Their commercial featured New York Giants Odell Beckham Jr. and actress Emily Ratajkowski, both of whom had huge social media clout.

Cadillac xt5
Source: Cadillac
Cadillac xt5

At the end of the day however, auto manufacturers need to sell cars — and millennials have different car buying habits than previous generations, making them a difficult demographic. Studies have shown that they are more in favor of ride-sharing and other services such as Uber. Others suggested that they don't have the financial capital to make a new car purchase.

But, a study by J.D. Power & Associates showed that millennials bought 27 percent of the new cars last year, making them the second-largest car buying group after baby boomers.

"While ride sharing might delay millennial car purchases, millennial car ownership will only increase as this generation moves to the suburbs, has families and builds loyalties to auto brands," said Steve Baer, managing partner of advertising agency Code and Theory, via email. "It also makes sense that this category is racing toward the same thing, millennial women. … Millennials in general are brand loyal. Win them over and you most likely have a long-term customer."

Baer adds that 40 percent of the U.S. population is multicultural, and it is the fastest growing segment.

"Successful brands are the ones that truly reflect their demographic, so I would say any brand that isn't leveraging diverse spokespeople is behind," he said. "The Cadillac brand has resonated with African-Americans in the past, and it makes sense to both value and build upon that affinity."