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The Car as Cultural Hero: Two Brands Share the Same Tactic

Advertising might be my profession, but cars and motorcycles are my passion. So I always pay attention to advertising that features either.

The trend in most current auto advertising is to be long on flash and low on substance. Instead of hardcore mechanical facts and figures, we’re given feelings…or fantasies.

Look no further than the current Lincoln campaign starring Matthew McConaughey. He moodily and morosely waxes philosophical behind the wheel, while offering no tangible benefits of the vehicle whatsoever. (Say what you will about this technique, but in Lincoln’s case it worked: since the campaign’s been airing, sales are up over 30%.)

But I digress. We were discussing trends in auto advertising.

Recently I noticed a mini trend pop up in the category. The similarities are just distinct enough to warrant a mention. But it’s the overall approach that interests me the most.

The first car brand I noticed using this trending tactic was Mazda.  In each Mazda commercial, an innovative person from recent culture is featured.  For example, Bruce Lee.  Bruce is called out for his ground-breaking martial arts style. This is quickly followed by the comparison of Mazda’s innovative style to Lee’s. It’s an easy enough concept to understand. It’s called borrowed interest — borrowing the interest from someone famous and dynamic like Bruce Lee, and attaching it to something else.  It’s sort of like an endorsement…without the actual endorsement.

This approach must have gotten noticed, as another car brand has picked it up. Namely Cadillac, with their new campaign of “Dare Greatly.”  Much like Mazda – but with a bigger helping of pomp and sanctimony – we’re treated to a variety of cultural heroes “whose passion and vision have reshaped their industries and our lives.”

These fantastic folks include computer god Steve Wozniak, film dude Richard Linklater and several other very interesting people I’d never heard of.  And even though they don’t profess to drive Cadillacs or speak for Cadillac or even like Cadillacs, their success and vision are like a Cadillac. This, in turn, makes Cadillac great because they also “Dare Greatly.”

Ok. I get it. Like Mazda, I’m suppose to take their individual achievements and apply them to Cadillac. Except I won’t. I can’t.  Because, even though they might share the same spirit of innovation, they had nothing to do with delivering it.  They didn’t envision the car, or design it, or build it, or test it. They’re simply endorsing it, via their names and faces.

As a car guy, I’d be much more influenced by those who actually had a hand in daring greatly to produce these Cadillacs.  Like the guy whose idea it was to put a 600 horsepower supercharged Corvette engine in a Cadillac. Or the guy who envisioned and engineered their insanely complicated electronic ride control system.

Now that’s what I call daring, great stuff!

These are my heroes – the visionaries whose abilities and opinions count to me. Not various experts from other fields whose only connection to the brand is a paycheck.

Now, I’m the first to admit I’m not the target audience for Cadillac’s efforts. But I am a well-informed and savvy car consumer. One who knows the true measure of an automobile is much greater than simply suggesting its relevance to a cultural hero who at one time “dared greatly.”

How about this: I “dare” the auto manufacturers to give us real reasons — tangible reasons — to consider their brand. Instead of gauzy, flimsy promises based on nothing but the achievements of others. In a category as competitive as automotive, that would really be daring greatly.  


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