No. 774,
November 26, 2014

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Real Bad.

There were several instances whilst reading Peter's column on Cadillac marketing and Melody Lee that I found myself wanting to hurl my computer at the wall.  As a fellow millennial, I can say without a doubt that Melody is full of shit.  She is clearly drinking her own Kool-Aid and is making it by the gallon.  However, Melody ought to consider if she’s drinking alone.  Furthermore, I resent the fact that she throws down the millennial card and gives the rest of us a bad rap with her idiotic ramblings and somehow thinks she represents all millennials with her opinions she presents as facts.  

Regarding her comments about jeans and flip flops, I think you covered it well.  The jeans and t-shirt look spans all economic classes.  Outside of work I wear jeans, t-shirt and Adidas shoes yet could afford a loaded ATS.  How would she try to market Cadillac to someone such as myself and convince me to buy one over a BMW or MB?  Never mind, she wouldn’t.  I wear jeans and thus am clearly not worth her time.

Lee’s comments about buying brands over products; that’s great but this isn’t the mall where she chooses to buy Apple, Michael Kors, Express or Victoria Secret’s Pink to show off how “cool” she is to other people.  If she wants to market cars that are perceived as cool to people who don’t really care about quality product or SERVICE, maybe she should try to sling the Kia Soul with those hip hamsters.

Melody Lee is clearly a millennial who received one too many participation awards growing up and thus thinks she could do no wrong and knows it all.  She’s making the rest of us look bad.  Real bad.

Novi, Michigan


A Question of Leadership.

There is an apparent dichotomy at Cadillac and perhaps throughout GM. The engineers and True Believers are trying to build the best cars in the world but those who market them think the quality of transportation isn't relevant to its sales potential.

The only way to bridge this gap is to have a strong CEO decide what GM is trying to produce, automotive excellence or gaseous imagery, and then make sure the team is all on one side - whichever it may be.

The ship of GM needs a rudder and it better get one fast. I can't see Barra in that role.

Paul Cassel
Albuquerque, New Mexico

The High-Octane Truth.

Great article on Lee and millenials... keep up the Unvarnished High-Octane Truth. But then I am a Gen X! Check Lee's LinkedIn profile... explains it all.

Brad Rickelman
Stillwater, Oklahoma



I, too, read the puff piece on Melody Lee. (Or was is it Julie Roehm? Deja vu all over again?)

So now we know what the cool kids think.  

Apparently you can take Cadillac out of GM but you can't take GM out of Cadillac - one step forward and two steps back. If you're still considering a Cadillac, don't forget to fill out that profile quiz to make sure you're cool enough. Otherwise, you just might be stuck in a car from a company headquartered in New Jersey or Virginia - and that just ain't cool.



"In the auto space let’s look at Audi, to point out just one manufacturer. Audi didn’t get to where it is today by worrying about the things that Ms. Lee and the other marketing operatives at Cadillac are so obsessed about."

I also doubt that Audi has anyone on staff with a title like “director of brand and reputation strategy”.  To me, that is a shortened way of saying "director of taking the product and trying our darndest to make it more than it actually is".  

Is Cadillac THAT desperate?  I find that very sad, as I used to buy Cadillac. I still would if they made a car I could get in and out of easily.  Note that I said "car", not SUV or crossover. I had 2nd generation SRXs and found them wanting.  I loved my 2003 CTS, but the later models are all engineered around 5-10 drivers. (I'm 6-1 with a tall torso and shoulders with separate ZIP codes.)

D.J. Mann
Henderson, Nevada

Who's the fairest of them all?

As I read this week's Rant about Ms. Lee, it occurred to me that the more she tries to be "millennial" in her POV, the more she reverts back to what helped get Cadillac in trouble in the first place and began the painful downward spiral that brought them to the brink.  Saying she likes Apple only due to the "cool" factor and pushing Cadillac as a "lifestyle" flies in the face of reason.  Isn't the "Cadillac Lifestyle" from the too recent past what got us the faux convertible tops and Vogue tires look? My understanding of that forgettable chapter is it was a lifestyle, but one that we'd all like to forget.  Same mistake; different bling.

The other thing Ms. Lee's insipid comments remind me of is Mercedes' current missteps and thinking that putting the 3-pointed star on anything with wheels automatically elevates the vehicle's desirability, in spite of the engineering behind it.  I would hope that with Cadillac spending so much time and effort (and $) on elevating the design and engineering of their vehicles, they would leverage that instead of some smoke and mirror BS dreamed up by people drinking designer bottled water in their too hip offices in NYC.  

I guess the hardest part of the brain washing process is the one where you have to make yourself believe your own spin.  I'm certain Ms. Lee absolutely adores the smartest, hippest person she knows - each and every time she looks in the mirror.

David Kozak
Cincinnati, Ohio


When people ask me why I say I'm not interested in ever visiting NYC, my answer is "because it's full of New Yorkers."  Melody Lee just furthers my distaste.  "A little bit ahead of everyone else" is just another swipe at "flyover country."  Fuck that noise.

Jim Z.
Detroit, Michigan

Pissing it away.

Ms. Lee's fluent in Chinese.  No doubt in my mind that's what got her the job.  Images of Cadillacs sitting in traffic from Beijing to Hong Kong no doubt danced through GM management's heads when they interviewed her -- which is a complete joke.

Amazing how many so-called marketing professionals just don't get what a "brand" is.  It's the sum of a consumer's interactions with every facet of a defined entity -- and it's only as good as your weakest link.  That's it.  You can't slap a facade on it.  You can't instantly buy one by rubbing up against other desirable brands in cross promotions or bribing a celebrity to be in your ads or whatever.  As you say, there are no shortcuts.

To get a brand right -- everything associated with it has to be right.  Look at restaurant reviews.  Perfect dining experiences earn the best ones.  But fall short in one area -- such as a grumpy waiter, a dirty glass or an entree that's overpriced or has an issue with preparation no matter how small -- that's what people remember -- and that, ladies and gentleman, is the brand that will be shared by the consumer within his or her area of influence.

Cadillac needs fewer shallow knuckleheads like Ms. Lee spouting truly stupid junk and getting photographed on New York runways -- and more people capable of, for example, getting Cadillac's dealers to treat people as well as Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz dealers treat theirs.  But that's hard, not very glamorous -- and doesn't hold the false promise of being a silver bullet quick fix to magically generate a shift in market share starting next quarter -- so it won't happen.  In fact, people in Cadillac marketing are no doubt proud of themselves for getting Ms. Lee in the back of Bloomberg Businessweek -- even though the exercise is completely pointless.

And that, my friends, is why GM is pissing away market share at nothing short of a frightening rate.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

MIchael Ostrofsky
Diablo Grande, CAalifornia  

Run for your lives!

Melody Lee is truly frightening, especially her thought processes. If she represents the customer that Cadillac seeks, then I see no reason to ever consider a Cadillac purchase.  There is no logic to her statements; there is no data to back up her statements.  if "cool" is the driver then Cadillac will always be looking for cool rather than becoming and being cool.

If Apple is cool, then why not move Cadillac to Cupertino!

I admit that I am a chemical engineer and that I prefer logical, data driven arguments. Still, the beauty of a finely crafted automobile ignites my emotions.  I always worry than I am the outlier not her.  If she is the norm, God help us and Cadillac.

Jim Rooney
Knoxville, Tennessee

Anywhere but there.

Wow, just wow that GM and Cadillac are still spouting BS instead of marketing their now-fine products.  But Ms Lee doesn't buy 'products'.  And Cadillac does not want to be an auto company.  Ugh. And as for the move to NYC, is Caddy wanting to get where the taxicab market is king?  I recall what happened when Ford moved Lincoln and their PAG brands to L.A.  Nothing good.  And the move to L.A. at least made sense because L.A. IS car culture and L.A. IS ahead of the curve, Ms Lee.  She should only get hired by Apple, perhaps she was dropping that hint in her interview.  She doesn't belong at GM.

Auburn, California

Nothing "Apple" about it.

So Melody Lee wants to compare Cadillac to Apple?  Let's talk about the Apple retail experience.  A couple years ago I needed a new power adaptor for my Apple MacBook.  As I entered the Apple store, I told the pleasant Apple employee right by the front door what I needed.  She said "Tom in the orange shirt will help you."  By the time I walked the 30 ft to be next to Tom, the woman at the front of the store had relayed to him what I needed, and he'd retrieved the correct power adaptor for me.  He scanned my credit card on his handheld and I was out the door in less than 2 minutes.  That is service.

Now think about your most recent retail experience at a Cadillac dealership.  What is Apple-like?  Not.  So.  Much.

Boston, Massachusetts

Insipid statement of the year.

“I don’t use Apple computers because they are the best computers, I use them because Apple is cool. "

That takes the 2014 prize for most insipid statement of the year. I guess old fogies like me (who in theory are more able to afford computers, or for that matter Cadillacs), who buy Apple products because they last longer, don't get viruses or bugs, seamlessly integrate their product lines and make software that's inherently more intuitive and easy to use just isn't as compelling an argument for purchasing than it being "cool."

Oh, and if you think you should not be marketing to people in jeans and flip-flops, you've clearly never been to Los Angeles. Which frankly would have been a far more logical choice than New York City for a new corporate headquarters. Because, we actually drive.

Tom Pease
(AE's L.A.-based correspondent)
Beverly Hills, California

Cadillac's suspect move east.

The move to NYC is suspect.  While NY is a wonderful town, it is one of the least car-centric places you could chose.  If Cadillac was serious about getting closer to its target customers, they would move to a more Car-Centric metro... Like Beverly Hills, or Orange County California, or San Jose, or Dallas, or anywhere else where affluent people are buying BMWs and Audis and not Cadillacs.  That's assuming this move is truly necessary (and isn't that the real question?)

Chris Westcott
Laguna Niguel, California


Lets face it, hipness isn't needed to sell Cadillacs to Millenials or anyone else for that matter. A brand of  exclusivity yes... hipness no. Truth be told, only a very small percentage of Millenials have the kind of wealth needed to buy a luxury brand automobile. Kind of hard to do if you're still living in your parents' basement. Cadillac still needs to become a brand of the highest Quality & Reliabiity with high residual values (like its competitors) to really compete with Lexus, Mercedes Benz, BMW and Audi. My question is this: Why can Buick make the auto industry's top list for Quality & Reliability yet Cadillac can't seem to reach that same bar?

Frank S.
Rochester, Michigan

Go Bold. Or Go Home.

The good news for Cadillac is that insufferably lame marketing probably isn't going to hurt all that much. The not so good news is that even great marketing isn't really going to help. Unless and until the products themselves cause real live customers to look up and take notice, Cadillac marketing is only so much sound and fury.

After a decade of consistent advances in engineering and build quality, Cadillac has leaped forward from industry joke to also ran. Cadillac is no longer the car your uncle in Florida used to drive; now it's the car that I read somewhere is pretty good and I'll take my new E400 in a slightly different shade of gray than the one I'm turning in.

What will work for Cadillac? Well, we know what won't. BMW achieved upscale bona fides by building ultimate driving machines, but even BMW buyers don't care about Bimmer athleticism anymore. Lexus gained luxury entree by selling Benz knockoffs with Toyota quality at fire sale prices; the competition has long since caught up. Audi soldiered on relentlessly for decades. That won't be happening at GM.

The only way Cadillac leaps into the lead again is with design. And that doesn't mean me too with a few more creases like the current lineup. That means big, bold, beautiful, and yes, American.  We don't have to imagine what Cadillacs like that would look like either-Cadillac has shown us time and again. The Cadillac Sixteen. The Cadillac Ciel. The Cadillac Elmiraj. These are the cars that belong in front of Oscar telecasts and Ted conferences and conclaves of Spector super-villains. These are Cadillacs.

The Melody Lee's of the world can tweet and text and instagram until their little millennial fingers turn blue. Cadillac's not getting anywhere until someone at the top gets some brass and declares, "That’s too outrageous for a concept car - that's going straight to our showrooms."

San Francisco, California


Memo to Melody Lee.

Dear Millennial --

You've lost your pointer, dear.  Brands aren't cool because you've declared them to be so.  

Here's the acid test for Cadillac Marketing, Engineering, Design, Manufacturing, Quality:

"If what you're doing isn't The Standard of the World, don't do it."

There's your frickin' Brand.


Decatur, Georgia



Melody Lee makes an excellent example of not only why GM is having a difficult time selling Cadillac to a younger crowd, but also attracting young fresh talent for the ranks; who would want to be represented by her?  These comments scream of "trying too hard," and that doesn't fly with my generation.

The comments remind me of a parent that is trying to be cool... no matter how hard you try, you'll never be cool.  It's embarrassing for her, and it's embarrassing for everyone making their way into Warren, MPG, the RenCen, etc. this morning.

SE Michigan


A cultural problem.

Peter, even when I don't agree with you, (which isn't often), your writing makes me think, chuckle and sometimes outright laugh. Your newest rant about Cadillac's insipidness was 100% right on the money, and also 100% funny as hell. However, I don't think the problem lies solely with Cadillac, but is still ingrained into every aspect of GM's corporate culture.

Ms Lee's inane comment about the recall fueling the change at Cadillac is a perfect illustration of the ignorance of the corporate culture at GM. They simply don't get it and haven't for too many years. Perhaps that's why I haven't owned nor even been interested in or considered any GM vehicle for some thirty years now. Meanwhile my wife is pondering trading her Charger in for another one, (or perhaps a 300 this time), and I'm looking to trade my current Mustang for a new one.

You said "I keep waiting for the light to go on for someone, anyone at GM marketing...". In my case I'm still waiting for the light to go one for someone, anyone at GM period. A steadily eroding market share, a product lineup that no longer inspires, the shuttering of four divisions over the past fifteen years, (granted I'd always held that GM had too many divisions, and that the distinctions between them blurred and ultimately vanished, but still), bankruptcy and bailout, clueless and inept management and constantly stumbling from one PR disaster, (often self inflicted at that), to another, and yet they still cling to ridiculous ideas and concepts and stupid marketing. They never learn, in no small part due to the overweening arrogance that consumes them.

Other than the staggering loss of jobs it would have caused, (and the resultant negative effects on our economy), sometimes I wonder if things wouldn't have been better if GM hadn't been bailed out, and had instead been broken up. Perhaps with different investors for the different divisions, each could have become something better than what it is and has been.

Mark M.
Shenandoah, Iowa

Editor-in-Chief's Note:
I will say this in defense of the True Believers at GM, they are firing on all cylinders have put together the strongest product lineup in the company's history. - PMD

A cultural problem, Part II.

In my experience, the biggest difference between someone who is really good and someone who is mediocre, is the great ones don't ever think they are good enough and always strive for better. and the mediocre think they are great and the problems lie elsewhere. GM thinks they make great cars and fix their problems with marketing, while the people at MB, BMW and Audi are always making their product better, so they don't need marketing to move their products. Mulally changed Ford's culture, and they went from average products to great ones. GM's culture is the real problem...

Rochester, New York



I can't believe what I just read in your latest Rant.  Not an automotive brand?  Oh boy.  I'm so tired of people who don't know a thing about cars or the business being hired and put in these types of positions.  What idiocy.  All of the progress that Cadillac has made on the product side, and then some, is swirling down the drain.  So sad.

C.W. Bahlman
Dearborn, Michigan

Leave it to the luxury marketing experts.

So Cadillac should purvey luxury and cool, not sweating all that car stuff, eh? I propose that General Motors sell Caddy to LMVH or some other luxury brand conglomerate that really knows how to push that kind of product.

Donald Pittenger
Seattle, Washington  


Roehmed, Part II.

Like JB in Motown, when reading the Cadillac rant I too was immediately reminded of Julie Roehm's tenure at DaimlerChysler.  Ms. Lee has a long way to go to top Ms. Roehm in the "clueless comment" category however.  After Ford got a ton of positive PR for sponsoring "Schindler's List" without commercials on NBC, Julie actually told a crowd at the Detroit Adcraft Club luncheon that "I don't see any reason why Mercedes Benz couldn't have the same thing."


Jim M.
Beverly Hills, Michigan

Memo to Cadillac:

Work hard.  Keep your head down and your mouths shut.  Stretch your design language.  Pretend you're a combination of German and English, and tone down the interiors while upgrading the materials.  Repeat to yourself "form over function."  Go for much better resale value. Tuck the body closer to the tires.  Lose the bling.  Try racing at LeMans for more than a couple of years.  Pander to the enthusiasts, and ignore the hipsters.  Consider that your competition actually knows what they are doing.  Hire outside the RenCen, but own your Motown roots.  And for goodness sake, get rid of people who define themselves as cool.  (One cannot anoint oneself cool.  Only others can do that for you.)

Did I mention keep your head down, mouths shut, and work hard?

Regards, Audi

(JPM, Atlanta, Georgia)

Nailing it.

Ms. Lee Nails It... for stupidity, the sad part is she doesn't know it and never will.  She perfectly represents what is wrong with business today, she has no feel or passion for her products, and due to good schooling she is now one of the "entitled".  I'm sure she's a nice person, but her, and others like her need to sit at a desk and do their job rather than be promoted at such a clip that they do not even understand their own business.  33 and head of Cadillac marketing - the only place real promotions come that fast is the battlefield, and the battlefield has its own way of winnowing out those who make good versus bad decisions.  When the whole thing fails, herself and many others will blame the customers for not getting it.  So, let's do something else bold - when the market share fails to move in 18 months - fire her.  After all, that's her job, to get the market share tracking the right way.  Let's also consider for a moment the stupidity of the NYC thing, first that logic, if correct, would mean that all German car companies need to move to Berlin, the French to Paris, the Japanese to Tokyo.  And as pointed out NYC has to be one of the most vehicle unfriendly cities on the planet.  And you're going there to learn to sell cars?  Wow, this makes Imported from Detroit almost sensible.

Randy R.
Gurnee, Illinois

Product obsession.

Peter, I don't think you need to change your thought process about Cadillac's move to New York.  You pretty much nailed it when you said that 1.) New Yorkers are not ahead of the rest of the country; and 2.) luxury brand credibility does not rub off with proximity to things like Lincoln Center (maybe Ms. Lee believes that LMC has the naming), SoHo, Greenwich Village or the Upper East Side.

While I'm on that subject, Ms. Lee needs to pick up a copy of Luxury Strategy by Jean-Noël Kapferer to understand how product obsessed that luxury brands are.  I can't see executives at Louis Vuitton not caring about leather products or Patek Phillipe not caring a lick about casings or movements while only focusing on the brand - which exists as a result of over a century of caring about the product.

If there were ever an industry that can be seen as cool and has a product that can move the emotions and soul in unison it's the automotive industry.  I am the subject of envy every time I show another person the pictures I have of a Bugatti Veyron I took while visiting VW's North American headquarters - and I never even drove the car!  I don't get that when I flash my iPhone 6 or iPad Air 2.  The fact of the matter is that cars do matter - New Yorkers especially know that.  At some point, an affluent New Yorker will wax poetic about the El Mirage and the opportunity missed by Cadillac.  I'd love to be a fly on the wall and hear her response about how the brand is more important than the product.

Holly Springs, North Carolina


Today's rant just undid a decade of therapy to forget the nonsense to which I was exposed during my last long-term auto industry gig.

First of all, thanks for closing the loop regarding Apple. They're cool because their stuff is great. It NEVER works the other way around. NEVER. And we have a precedent from recent auto industry. Remember Jac Nasser from Ford? He was known for saying basically the same twaddle that 'Ford isn't a car company; its a brand that happens to make cars, and provide services that customers want and need because of our brand.'

That worked out really well for Ford and Mr. Nasser, eh?

I'm reminded of an example from my career where we were trying to pick a name for a new trucks and SUV we were launching. The company we hired to consult with us was a bunch of (literally) loafer-wearing San Francisco yuppies. They were completely, 100%, in every way possible illiterate about the auto industry. Its history; its importance; its reason to exist. It took us several days of trying to convince them that, although a great name, "Nomad" could not be used. Not now. Not ever. Not in 10,000 years. Not for any amount of money.

In the end they presented a name that would have been great for a mouth wash, scrubbing pad, shoe-inserted odor absorbing product or condom. It was embarrassing.

Marketing bullshit smells like it always has - and it makes my head hurt!

Detroit, Michigan

Cadillac product = good. Cadillac marketing = abysmal.

While I often find Autoextremist too bilious for my taste (particularly on FCA - agree they suck), your withering take down of Melody Lee is brilliant.

I was initially hopeful about Cadillac's move to NYC. I even prepped a new resume. But even if they were to hire a 51-year-old straight shooting marcom veteran, I just couldn't imagine being among people like Melody Lee. She actually said about brands, “I don’t use Apple computers because they are the best computers, I use them because Apple is cool.” Jeez. I hope the nice people at the Apple store on Spring Street treat her snottily.

Peter Engel
Brooklyn, New York

Forget it, Donny, you're out of your element!

What a bunch of amateurs!  I'll bet Lee couldn't find reverse on a Soviet tank!

Enjoyin' my coffee.

Walter Sobcheck
Los Angeles, California

In case you're wondering, it gets worse.

Did you see this Road&Track interview with Ms. Lee's boss, Uwe Ellinghaus, where he says, "I always say, I want to build the first luxury brand that just happens to sell cars. Luxury brands don’t sell products, they sell dreams?" You know that the new offices will be hard by the jammed approaches to the Holland Tunnel. The next few years should be fun.

Eastchester, New York

Lee doesn't get it.

I was emailing you because I had read that disaster of an article on Ms. Lee and her pontification on all things being. As a new hire to GM, I came in eyes wide open to help this company solve some of it's problems. I did so because I wanted to be apart of a resurgence and I wanted to see the iconic brands of my childhood thrive. As a person who left a sunshine filled state to back my faith in "the new GM" I am left speechless by how much Ms. Lee doesn't get it.

I am amused that she cites Apple. She could not be more wrong about why she and everyone else buys Apple products. Apple is so focused on the product that they've routinely entered late to a market because they cared more about how great the product experience was than the flag that says "here first."

They became "cool" because everyone from my 18-year-old developer cousin to my 90-year-old grandmother can use them. It was that broad level of adoption that made developers want to design apps for them. It was that broad base of apps that brought the market fragments together.

So while the "cool" audiophiles may have thought a Zune sounded better (yeah, hard to even write that with a straight face) they bought iPhones because there were more apps, content and usable features.

Ms. Lee is everything wrong with marketing. She is the epitome of style over substance. She maybe too young to remember this but her ethos is why Cadillac thought it could fight BMW/MB with the "Caddy that Zigs."

Detroit, Michigan



Your rant this week is disturbing.  I have known the Ms. Lee types, knew them in college, know them in the workplace today. They like to hear themselves talk, and they can get the good promotions if certain managers are clueless enough to believe what is spewing out. I am truly intrigued by the new ATS, but as I sit here in jeans and flip flops, I now realize that I am not cool enough for the lifestyle.

John B.
Houston, Texas