That Little Cadillac Commercial

You know which one I’m talking about, right? The one that stirred up all the controversy and set people atwitter. The one that’s been dominating the water cooler (do those still exist?).

This one, titled “Poolside”:

Honestly, I don’t really see what the big deal is. If I had watched this before I read about it, I don’t think it would have really stuck in my mind. But apparently it has raised a lot of hackles, so I might as well give it the ol’ Motorista philosophical analysis.

I’ll start by making up a new category that this ad has created: edgy patriotism. It’s more in the Team America “America, F*** Yeah!” vein than the sentimental old Ford and Chevy ads. Cadillac is blowing a raspberry at France (specifically) and European car manufacturers in general. The explicit message is, essentially, we Americans work hard and play hard and, because we don’t dilly-dally around, we create cool stuff and enjoy the hell out of it. Take that, you long-vacationing Frenchies.

Some people think this message is dead-serious and a perfect example of the worst kind of American hubris. I think Cadillac is halfway being serious and halfway having a little fun with the non-humorous people. Really, I just think Cadillac is being cheeky.

A common complaint I have read is that this ad promotes materialism. I think that’s simplistic. I see it more as highlighting a desire for quality and the ability to enjoy the benefits of hard work and thinking outside the box. It strikes me as tongue-in-cheek American dream.

I also read an interesting observation – if you look closely, the narrator (actor Neal McDonough) is interacting with his family, none of whom are on electronic devices. His two kids are reading and drawing. His wife is walking out of the kitchen, taking a newspaper he handed her. If this really was America at its worst, everyone would be on iPads, not interacting, and McDonough would drive off in an Escalade, not the new electric ELR.

Which brings me to my own interesting observation – if this was a commercial for the new Escalade, I think I would hate it. It would fit too much into the box of gross American materialism that critics are currently claiming. But the ELR casts a different feel. It is an alternative fuel vehicle, but it is sophisticated, sexy, and a whole new way of doing alt fuel. In other words, it’s the anti-Prius. So, with the ELR as the subject, I see this ad highlighting American innovation and creativity, not our (admittedly true) obsession with “stuff.” And, holy moly, this ad casts an alt fuel vehicle as an aspirational vehicle, something to work hard for. When have we ever seen that?? I have certainly never thought of a Prius as an attainment vehicle (quite the opposite, in fact). The ELR? Yes. Oooh, look at that tricky thing Cadillac just did.

I saw the ELR at the Detroit Auto Show in both 2013 and 2014 (it was my favorite 2013 debut). It’s a badass car. Take a look.

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Cadillac’s new marketing chief, Uwe Ellinghaus, reportedly did not like the ad, which was already in development when he was hired. He tweaked it to make the ELR the subject. But he says Cadillac is moving away from the tone of “Poolside.” Good call on using the ELR, Uwe. But don’t get too far away from the “Poolside” tone. It’s smart and ballsy and does a good job of reflecting the change the ELR is bringing to the alt fuel market.

Plus, it accomplished what all ad execs want: people are talking about it.

“It’s pretty simple: you work hard, you create your own luck, and you gotta believe anything is possible.”

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