You’re a top General Motors executive with responsibility over the Cadillac and GMC SUV businesses. You’re responsible for both, but your neck is really on the line for Cadillac. You’ve hired new executives. You’re making serious product investments to bring performance up to a world class standard. You’ve even allowed the Cadillac team to move from Detroit to NYC, ostensibly, both to free them from any corporate/cultural obstacles and to tap into (what you've been told is) some unique "style" found in lower Manhattan. Moreover, you’ve also committed to a big marketing campaign - with new creative and lots of expensive media. It seems you've been persuaded to really go for it on Cadillac.

 

So, with all of that as context, what do you do?

You let GMC SUV’s knock-off Cadillac’s new look & feel in their advertising. Check this out. It’s a GMC Denali ad, but … it's really a Cadillac ad. 

To grow the business, you understand that it is critical that Cadillac break through the clutter of the extremely competitive luxury auto market. A huge aspect of that challenge is carving out a clear Cadillac brand identity: what the brand is, who its for, and most important - what makes it different and special from the competition. Of course that is first accomplished by building better vehicles, and GM is well on their way on this front. It is also done by touching your target consumers in compelling ways. Establishing a strategic and unique identity is crucial to this objective. That's what makes this intra-GM 'brand appropriation' so confusing.

I understand why GMC might want to leverage the new energy around Cadillac, but doing so in this way is a big mistake and someone at GM should know better. Perhaps GMC's entire SUV strategy is predicated on operating in the proverbial 'slipstream' of its more patrician cousin. There may be legitimate engineering efficiencies that can be shared across businesses, but brand identity is never something that can be shared.

At a time when Cadillac must differentiate, this move adds further confusion. When it needs to be separating itself from 'the pack', this copycat GMC advertising drags it right back. This isn't to say that there's anything wrong with the GMC brand, it's just that Cadillac hanging around GMC makes it almost impossible to be seen as a peer of leading brands like Mercedes Benz and BMW.

This seems like a mistake that an engineering-centric company might be particularly prone to make - despite being consumer facing and relying on the fundamentals of brand strategy to drive revenue growth. An organization that values product and features (what it makes) above brand strategy and marketing might naively do this.

In contrast, Apple would never do this. They certainly appreciate engineering and product design as much as any other company. They just know that their brand is the key to business growth. They would never 'hamstring' their brand by allowing its image to be misappropriated by any other brand - particularly one they have control over.

There's no way that Cadillac can become one of the premier luxury auto brands in the world with this kind of strategic misstep. It's not enough to just advertise heavily, GM must also be disciplined about adhering to strategic brand management principles to ensure that its saying precisely the right things, to the right people, at the right time. And to be sure, sharing its advertising look and feel with GMC isn't a part of that plan!

 

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Tags: advertising, brand, cadillac, gmc, strategy.

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