September 9, 2009
Can Cadillac be “The Standard of the World” again?
By Peter M. De Lorenzo
(Posted 9/8, 10:00am) Detroit. Every once in a while I’m reminded of one of the greatest – if not the greatest – pieces of ad copy ever written. The following is the text from that ad, which was written by Theodore MacManus for Cadillac, and it appeared in the Saturday Evening Post on January 2, 1915.
The Penalty of Leadership.
In every field of human endeavor, he that is first must perpetually live in the white light of publicity. Whether the leadership be vested in a man or in a manufactured product, emulation and envy are ever at work. In art, in literature, in music, in industry, the reward and the punishment are always the same. The reward is widespread recognition; the punishment, fierce denial and detraction. When a man's work becomes a standard for the whole world, it also becomes a target for the shafts of the envious few. If his work be merely mediocre, he will be left severely alone - if he achieve a masterpiece, it will set a million tongues a-wagging. Jealousy does not protrude its forked tongue at the artist who produces a commonplace painting. Whatsoever you write, or paint, or play, or sing, or build, no one will strive to surpass, or to slander you, unless your work be stamped with the seal of genius. Long, long after a great work or a good work has been done, those who are disappointed or envious continue to cry out that it can not be done. Spiteful little voices in the domain of art were raised against our own Whistler as a mountebank, long after the big world had acclaimed him its greatest artistic genius. Multitudes flocked to Bayreuth to worship at the musical shrine of Wagner, while the little group of those whom he had dethroned and displaced argued angrily that he was no musician at all. The little world continued to protest that Fulton could never build a steamboat, while the big world flocked to the river banks to see his boat steam by. The leader is assailed because he is a leader, and the effort to equal him is merely added proof of that leadership. Failing to equal or to excel, the follower seeks to depreciate and to destroy - but only confirms once more the superiority of that which he strives to supplant. There is nothing new in this. It is as old as the world and as old as the human passions - envy, fear, greed, ambition, and the desire to surpass. And it all avails nothing. If the leader truly leads, he remains - the leader. Master-poet, master-painter, master-workman, each in his turn is assailed, and each holds his laurels through the ages. That which is good or great makes itself known, no matter how loud the clamor of denial. That which deserves to live - lives.
Dramatic, compelling and provocative, that piece of ad copy ran exactly twice – in 1915 and again in 1919 – but remarkably it seared the image of the Cadillac brand in the minds of generations of consumers to come as the best there is.
How many times have we all heard the phrase “The Cadillac of…” whenever a company has tried to position its product as the best in its particular category? I’d say countless times, and we’re still hearing it – albeit only occasionally – today.
Cadillac has built up a decent reputation with some excellent products on the ground now (CTS, CTS-V, CTS Wagon, SRX) and some intriguing new entries coming (the sensational CTS Coupe, a full lineup of 3-series fighters sized below the CTS, and a next-generation full-size entry, the XTS), but it will take more than great products in order for Cadillac to achieve greatness again.
The question is can Cadillac – and the people responsible for Cadillac’s stewardship – get there? Do they really get it and understand what it will take?
I’m not buying that they do. There’s too much of that “old” GM think still at work down at the RenCen, or should I say “mold” GM think. There are too many people still functioning down there as if it was business as usual, even though top executives - including new chairman Ed Whitacre - insist that things have changed for the better and that the “bad” GM just doesn’t exist anymore. But the right-sounding pronouncements emanating from the RenCen at the drop of a hat are just so much lip service at this point, and I need evidence to the contrary that more than just a few get it.
Because it will take an all-consuming passion of total commitment – a relentless want to, if you will – on the part of the entire organization, something that currently only appears sporadically and only in some quarters of the division.
It will take a clear understanding of who they are and a clear vision as to where they want to go (an idea that perhaps sounds a bit too simplistic, that is until you’ve been inside some of these organizations and realize how difficult it is to get everyone on the same page and pulling in the same direction).
It will take a focused consistency in their design and engineering regimens and particularly in their product execution. What does that mean? If Cadillac is to be Cadillac again, the people toiling in it need to understand that the division’s recent resurrection to respectability is only that, respectability. It’s not a ticket to “the club” yet. Yes, the CTS-V is an incredibly outstanding machine, but it shouldn’t be the culmination of where Cadillac wants to be, because it’s just the beginning. Every single new Cadillac must bristle with the kind of creativity and executional excellence that’s evident in the CTS-V if the division is to attain real greatness.
If Cadillac wants to get back – all the way back – to the reputation it once enjoyed and thrived upon then it has to put its stake in the ground and understand that the raison d’etre that once propelled it to greatness, that brand image that was seared in the consciousness of consumers for decades has to not only be renewed, it must be embellished and enhanced for this new age.
Laughable? Not from where I sit. This isn’t a technology issue or a talent issue, because Cadillac has everything it needs to succeed as a luxury-performance automaker.
No, it’s a want to issue.
If the organization revolves its existence around its famously historic advertising theme it will be forced to not only live up to it on a daily basis, but merely competing with its competitors all of a sudden becomes completely unacceptable. Cadillac will be forced to will themselves to greatness, to soar beyond their competition and occupy a plateau all their own.
In short, Cadillac needs to become “The Standard of the World” once again.
It would demand an all-consuming passion and uncompromising commitment to being the absolute best there is in the business, and the few True Believers left at Cadillac (and at GM) who understand the importance of the mission and want to do the right thing will have to push the organization the rest of the way.
Bob Lutz has his marketing troops hard at work crafting a new advertising strategy for Cadillac that is expected to carry the brand for its next round of new product introductions and beyond.
But whether or not they get it remains to be seen, because if they’re working with anything less than “The Standard of the World” for Cadillac’s advertising theme, then they – and the entire organization – will come up short.
Thanks for listening.
See another live episode of "Autoline After Hours" hosted by Autoline Detroit's John McElroy, with Peter De Lorenzo and friends this Thursday evening, September 10, at 7:00PM EDT at www.autolinedetroit.tv. Subscribe via iTunes:
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See another live episode of "Autoline After Hours" hosted by Autoline Detroit's John McElroy, with Peter De Lorenzo and friends this Thursday evening, September 10, at 7:00PM EDT at www.autolinedetroit.tv.
Subscribe via iTunes: