If you can make it here yada, yada, yada…

Has it really been over a decade since Cadillac reintroduced their brand via the Modernista agency and a Super Bowl commercial featuring Led Zeppelin? It’s actually been longer. What’s weird is that Cadillac always seems to be reintroducing itself to the world. And so yet another new brand launch campaign, this time from Publicis, comes as no surprise. Now the creed is a phrase: “Dare Greatly.” Derived from a famous speech by President Theodore Roosevelt, “The Man in the Arena.” Great when he delivered it, I’m sure. In the commercial it sounds exactly like the overblown pontifications of a preening copywriter: a purple brand manifesto if ever I heard one. Written my share of them as well. You know what I’m talking about. Such mantras usually include a plethora of big seldom-used words like plethora. Adjectives are used as nouns and vice-versa. Old-time-y phrases. It’s all here in this Ode to trying and failing and trying some more, aka “daring greatly.”

I guess Cadillac has a new CMO, a German named Uwe Ellinghaus. (Say that three times fast.) “The new point of view for Cadillac is one that embodies the American spirit in a contemporary manner without using American cliches,” Mr. Ellinghaus said.

Whatever you say, Uwe.

An uber-German selling the quintessential American car is both discomforting and ironic. But ours is a free country. If Cadillac wants to throw money at a Bavarian in order to reinvent Cadillac for the 100th time that’s their prerogative.

Wozniak dared greatly to think different!

In fairness, the consumer only sees the work. So what of it? The campaign premiered on the Academy Awards, a total of four commercials including the above-mentioned anthem. The other spots depict specific people who dared to do something great and (of course) became famous for it. Cadillac’s step-up line at the end: How dare a 112 year-old carmaker reinvent itself?

Thin argument but at least I get it. More so than the better-to-have-failed opus we get in the anthem. Still, the question comes off a tad disingenuous because, as was stated, the brand has been perpetually trying to re-start for over a decade. Like a car trying to turn over on a winter’s morning: It’s…It’s…It’s…Damn! But let’s give them the benefit of the doubt.

However, I am weary of American history co-opted to sell products. It feels tired and cynical when it should be bold and fresh. W&K’s image campaign for Levis did all of this…and so much better.

Now that’s Americana made fresh…

Expectedly, the film is pretty but the subject matter is mundane: New York City streets, iconic high rises, carefully chosen “real” people. Honestly, it’s no more than a serioused-up version of SNL’s iconic opening signature film. And they were there first. Outside of a couple shots I’m not inspired by any of it. In the end I can literally feel the advertising agency behind these commercials.

I miss Led Zeppelin.

Author’s Note: As I was writing this I got pinged from my old creative partner, Mike Coffin regarding a blog post he’d just written on the same topic! it is here:


General Motors is running a remarkable TV commercial dramatizing its near collapse and subsequent rise. It’s an anthem depicting various semi-famous Americans who’ve fallen during the course of their careers and then valiantly gotten back up. For example, we see Evil Kenevil wipe out something fierce and then later in the spot, with help, get up. We also glimpse the dejected frat boys from Animal House (the movie) followed by a piece from John Belushi’s notorious rallying cry. There’s Popeye the Sailor pre and post spinach. Finally, the iconic photo of President Truman holding up the newspaper saying he lost the election. The images are cut to a lovely piano concerto. The lone super reads: We all fall down. Thank you for helping us get back up. (GM. Since 1908)

In terms of emotional filmmaking, it’s a nice piece of work. But is it a good idea? I’m not sure but I do applaud them for owning their failure as a company…sort of. The American taxpayer was obligated to help GM, whether they liked it or not. Billions of dollars. My understanding is that they have since paid us back. But does that give America’s biggest car company the license to thank us? Shouldn’t they have apologized for tripping themselves up at everyone’s expense? Maybe they did. Perhaps the better question is whether we ought to accept this image building campaign for what it is: a token of gratitude.

If the goal was quiet bravery then score. But underneath all that tear-jerking honesty is the legitimate image of arrogant old men ruining a company and lining their pockets in the process.

Apologizing for failure is vogue right now. Look at what Dominoes Pizza is doing. In addition, social media lets brands be blue and true and then LOL. Famous people keep screwing up and asking the public to forgive them. Christ, it’s like our country has become one big confession booth. The cynical takeaway: Forgive us for our sins and get 20 percent off your next purchase.

From what I’ve gathered, General Motors is on the rebound. Good for them. Good for us, too… right?