Cadillac - Resuscitation without Nostalgia nor Provocation? - Interview with Uwe Ellinghaus, CMO

April 26, 2017

Uwe Ellinghaus is CMO of Cadillac and on a mission to revive this icon of American luxury. But rather than starting with automobiles, his vision of Cadillac is one of "an experience that young people associate with modern luxury, ... of a brand that happens to also make cars.' That sounds like a page from our 'Ueber-Brands' research, so we dig deeper in our interview (click play button below).

Ellinghaus tells us that he does not count on rekindling the flame of lapsed Boomer drivers or seek to change the acerbic opinions of skeptical Gen Y-ers.  His focus is on people who are young enough not to have witnessed the clunky Cadillac of the late 70ies through the 90ies but are curious to (re-)discover the brand through a cultural lens, from pop-art and photography to Hollywood movies and Motown music.  And that includes the Chinese many of whom revere American icons and make them part of their modern lifestyle.  What they have in common is "a perception that all their neighbors - and their dad - drives a BMW", he says.

But the CMO does not want Cadillac to be "a nostalgic piece of Americana", either.  'Dare Greatly' is the internal rallying cry and campaign slogan.  TV ads first aired during the Oscar awards in 2015 link the brand to personalities who have dared to dream and did greatly from Teddy Roosevelt to Jason Wu (links below). And, of course, there are the cars, themselves.  One could describe them as the luxury version of the American muscle car (in electric, if desired) - with the Escalade at the over-sized, most daring (or 'bullying'?) - end of the spectrum.  An icon of power in its own right and and across generations, Ellinghaus says.

Yet, the 'daring' seems not to always come easily or without a need for some moderation: Yes, the gallery at Cadillac House in Soho is intended to be an autonomous art space and the Cadillac ad shown during the Oscars urges America to overcome a 'Nation Divided'. Yet the CMO emphasizes that the brand does 'not want to take sides' or 'polarize' with its messages or choices...  Something we are used to hear from brands owned by large shareholding companies seeking to scale. 

In the interview, we also talk about...

  • the role of NYC, fashion, art and casual luxury in Cadillac strategy
  • who he is looking for to join his group (hint: not 'car guys')
  • what luxury can learn from 'boring industries' like banking or insurance
  • why Tesla is an admirable model but not one to follow

Take a listen and a look and let us know your take on these brand building efforts.


Cadillac House Soho and 'Toiletpaper Paradise.' Amateurs do a photo shoot in the walk-in exhibit.

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Cadillac as a Lifestyle: Joe Coffee, cars, casual work space and ... Art


For more insights what drives the success of modern Prestige brands - Ueber-Brands as we call them - read our book “Rethinking Prestige Branding – Secrets of the Ueberbrands” and other case-studies on this blog.

Here is a link to the Cadillac website and the 'Dare Greatly' site. This is the film which uses a speech ('Man in The Arena') by Teddy Roosevelt where he asks Americans to 'Dare Greatly'. The film aired during the 2015 Oscars and kicked off the campaign.   Here are some of the later executions with Steve Wozniak and Jason Wu.

This is the 'Nation Divided' film that aired during the Oscars and a critical review by James B Stewart at the New York times of it and socio-political messages by other brands.


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