“Confidence” makes Canadian Club best in show but Cadillac a hot rod for MILFs.

September 19, 2008

What is it about Canadian Club’s print campaign that makes it best in show advertising? The art direction and copy are first rate.  I still can’t tell if those photos were made, found or what. Their reckless boisterousness is irresistible. The art perfectly augments a declarative tagline: “Damn right your dad drank it.”

But stellar art direction and copy are prices for entry in the finalist category. What factor(s) took CC’s campaign to the next level? Why is it so “damn” good?

For obvious reasons, it’s a question worth looking at. Figure out what’s magic about top-flight work and maybe you can create some yourself. My friend and current CEO of Publicis and Hal Riney in San Francisco, Jamie King answered the question in one word: Confidence.

The “Damn Right” campaign has it in spades. And not just because of randy pictures and tough language. Again, price of entry. (And, sometimes, cost of exit). The genuine confidence comes from a brand that looked at itself honestly, found its weakest link, and fixed it.

Jamie’s agency pitched CC, losing to Energy BBDO and the “Damn Right” campaign. During the pitch, his team spoke to numerous drinkers. The comment they kept hearing about Canadian Club was that it was something their Dads drank a long time ago. In other words, CC was old-fashioned and not for them.

Instead of reacting to this learning by forcing a modernization strategy, CC and Energy BBDO turned the perceived negative into an actual positive. “Damn right your father drank it.” He also “had” a lot of women before your mother. In fact he “had groupies” and was absolutely “not a metrosexual.” Owning up to who you are takes true confidence. Positioning CC as “not your father’s Canadian Club” would have been falsely confident and a mistake.

False confidence drives a lot of advertising. I still cringe every time Kate Walsh asks, on behalf of the new Cadillac CTS: “When you turn your car on does it return the favor?” It’s a nifty line, and she’s hot, and I’m sure the car holds its own in the luxury market… So why, then, is the commercial so completely annoying?

While the CTS is not your father’s Caddy that doesn’t mean it has to be a hot rod for MILFs. The campaign is “fronting” for Cadillac.

I don’t doubt certain people like these vehicles and these ads. But mark my words this campaign will not win any creative prizes. And it isn’t because of the writing or art direction, which is fiery and bold; it’s because of tone and manner. Ushering in these bodacious machines, it feels like Mussolini showing off his weapons to Hitler. False confidence.

Canadian Club owns it’s past and tells the truth about it. The confidence is genuine and the ads are relevant, engaging and, best of all, fun.

Confidence is key criteria for many advertisers, especially those appealing to young men. Best make sure and get it right, damn it!


14 Responses to ““Confidence” makes Canadian Club best in show but Cadillac a hot rod for MILFs.”

  1. Nice insight about a very nice campaign. Like people, brands can spend far too much time worrying about what they aren’t instead of simply being themselves and benefitting from it. What’s more, when brands find their natural place in the world, the less their messaging feels like advertising. As for Cadillac, well, as technically proficient as the ads are, they feel very much like advertising.

  2. SRP said

    Thank you, Jim, for your comment. Your input makes the discussion so much better.

  3. Jason Fox said

    To quote the great Jack Palance, “Confidence is very sexy, don’t you think?”

    The day a brand realizes that genuineness and honesty trumps sideshow sizzle is a great day for that brand. It’s one of the basic rules of life, whether you’re talking about brands or people – folks can spot a poseur at 50 paces. Which is why, in my opinion, the new Microsoft campaign crashes and burns.

    Of course, the fact that many brands don’t even have a clue to their own true identities only complicates the issue.


  4. I agree that Canadian Club is a far superior campaign, but beyond that I feel like comparing it to the Cadillac campaign is like apples and oranges. CC’s target with this campaign is much younger than Caddy’s. On top of that, a bottle of CC costs a lot less than a Caddy.

    And I’m not sure very many car buyers would be willing to spend multiple thousands on a Cadillac if Cadillac was going for nostalgia and authenticity. People already know that Cadillac has produced generations of aspirational luxury cars, and if that attracts you enough to buy it, you’re probably interested in a Caddy with or without this ad. This campaign is trying to send the message that they’re not “your granddaddy’s cadillac” to interest people beyond the core audience.

  5. SRP said

    You’re right in so many ways. Another facet to the debate: Canadian Club does not change every model year. In the end, I’m just trying to make a statement about confidence.

  6. Canadian Club — awesome. Nuff said.

    As for Cadillac, I like it. For the first time since… well, I actually don’t remember EVER liking Cadillac advertising before. Or, more accurately, I simply don’t remember Cadillac advertising before. And while the ads seem to be trying to hit a younger audience with the money for a Caddy (but, egad! without using the word “Caddy”) like me, for example, it’s biggest impact seems to be on people like my 66-year-old father and some of his friends. They’re constantly talking to me about ads they love and asking if I did them. Sadly, I have to decline credit for most examples they mention. The latest spots they’re drooling over — Cadillac. And the particular ad in question “…does it return the favor?” is a crowd favorite. So, is Cadillac trying to be a hotrod for MILFs, or are they still speaking to their core? Their core, evidently, that has gotten a hell of a lot hipper as they age.

    As Jim mentioned above, yes, they do indeed feel like advertising. But, what’s wrong with that? Our work is always mid-evolution to the next great style. But honestly, I think I’m tired of ads that feel like things other than ads. It seems rather “done” to me. I’m hoping for a return to the unapologetic. I like writing ads. Love it, in fact. And I’m damn proud that I’m good at it. I just completed a campaign for a pitch (fingers crossed) that actually uses a spokesman albeit a funny one. The ads are very much in-your-face ads. They do stop short of announcing “this is an advertisement” but not very short. The ads, if produced, will be all about confidence. They’ll be all about the product. And they’ll be unmistakably ads. Not slices of life. Not surreal observations. Blatant, unapologetic advertising. And I’ll love ’em.

  7. Ronan,

    I wasn’t trying to knock ads for clearly being ads. Full-frontal is often the best way to go. (Insert sex joke here.) I just think these Cadillac ads fall into that slick, but not really, place that I personally find to be a bit of a turn-off. A little too much of an elbow in the ribs saying aren’t we cool. Just one man’s opinion. Overall, Modernista has done a nice job of updating a brand that had slipped off the rails of relevance.

  8. SRP said

    As I read these comments and review my post, I realize there is a lot to admire and criticize about the “life, Liberty and the Pursuit” campaign for Cadillac. As I said, the copy lines are bold and fiery. And the production is first rate. I just don’t like it. And maybe that’s not a fair basis for opposing it.

  9. Jim,

    I do hear ya on the “slick” factor. As a Boston creative, I actually have a little trouble defending Modernista work because all of us here are getting sick of the music video style they use in every single product. Which in itself is a bit of an elbow in the ribs saying aren’t we cool.

    It’s also annoying that my friends there, when referencing the place in an email, will type: M!.

    M!…? Really? It conjures some fairly immature responses from me such as “bite me.”

    That said, if anyone from Modernista is reading this — Y’all still have my book on file, right?

  10. Ronan,

    Think you hit the nail on the head with your musical video comment. On the other hand, remember Modernista’s homage to Wes Anderson a few year’s back–the Hummer spot featuring “Happy Jack”–that was pretty nice.

  11. Happy Jack was awesome.

  12. Ben Berzai said

    I understand your point about being true to the brand.

    When I was a kid, my parents cursed Cadillac drivers, saying they think they own the road. So, through your CC ideas, a new generation of Cadillac owners could embrace that ideal and “Own the Road.”

    Sometimes I prefer slick.

  13. Andy Webb said

    I like Ronan’s observations on the Cadillac spot. He points out that his 66-year-old father and his friends love it. So, the commercial (slick as it is) could be firing on a couple of cylinders here: appealing to a newer aspirational crowd; and tickling much older guys who lusted after a Cadillac in their 20s and 30s. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of those guys dipped into their retirement funds to get behind the wheel in order to try and recapture a bit of the glory days again. Maybe they’d cruise down to the local watering hole for a shot of CC.

  14. Jim Willhoft said

    The best CC ads were those which touted the hiding spots of 22 cases of CC whiskey hidden throughtout the world. To this day, 5 remain hidden. They are in the Yukon Territory, Robinson Crusoe Island off the coast of Chile, Ujiji, Tanzania, Lake Placid, NY, and the North Pole. If you would like more information as to the hiding places, E-Mail me @ james.willhoft@gte.net w/a carbon copy to jwillhoft@corptax.com

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