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Why Cadillac’s CMO has literally rewritten its brand manifesto

Cadillac’s chief marketer has invested creative efforts into rewriting the company’s brand manifesto as she looks to widen the target audience from traditional luxury buyers to the self-made luxury buyers of the future.

It was difficult to ignore Cadillac during the livestream of this year’s Oscars. The award show’s sponsor bought no less than three spots during the 3.5-hour ceremony and landed the first commercial of the night as part of its 2021 Escalade push.

The investment was impressive but not surprising.

Cadillac is a steadfast Academy Awards partner with seven consecutive ceremony appearances now under its belt. It revels in the links between its own luxury offering and the Oscars' luxury-loving ticketholders, and remains impressed by the reach of the media buy.

“Whereas the Super Bowl is kind of kitschy and fun, the Oscars give us a place where we can really tell a story,” said Melissa Grady, Cadillac’s chief marketing officer. “And it's the most watched entertainment show live on TV.”

But this year, the brand kicked off its marketing calendar with a more nuanced message than years before. ‘Make Your Way’ is Grady’s first big campaign as chief marketer at Cadillac (she got the job last September) and speaks not exclusively to the typical luxury crowd but also to those who aspire to be in it.

Grady wrote the strategy on the back of the company’s rich, hardened heritage in the rich, hardened Detroit. And like any good former performance marketer, she was backed by audience insights.

“There's something that's very uniquely Cadillac, and that is this idea of a sense of pride around ownership,” she explained. “We call it 'earnership' – people are like, ‘no-one gave me a Cadillac, I've worked, I've pushed myself through things and I've come to this place because I earned it.’

“It's something that comes up in our research all the time.”

Cadillac’s marketing team set to work briefing agency of record Leo Burnett Detroit in the summer of 2019.

At the same time, it had begun adjusting its media plan to reach a wider target audience with Carat. The agency had built a propensity model that identified a wider group of people “19 times more likely to buy a Cadillac than any other luxury vehicle” in the future, rather than the usual luxury demographic of "25-to-54-year-olds with a certain income".

But the creative side of the brief proved harder to crack.

Leos was creating work that was “good” but not goosebump-inflicting. So, Grady went back to the words of the brief, which took her back to the words of the brand itself.

She quickly paused the campaign work and got her team and agency to rewrite the entire brand manifesto instead.

“The first time [around] ... we wrote it in the third person, and it felt a little bit like we were talking at or about someone. So, we wrote it again in the first person and I feel like we really got to the point where, we knew that this is what we stand for.”

The final manifesto bucks the trend of tech’s pithy mission statements and harks further back to the era of DDB’s longform Volkswagen copy.

It reads: “We are born of ambition, optimism, and a passion for what’s next. Our mission is to inspire those who don't wait for opportunities – they make them. Those who do not long for success – they create it.

“The restless, undaunted, driven few who achieved greatness through guts, grit and determination. he ones who, powered by sheer force of will, go through obstacles, not around them, the ones who navigate the unknown with the fearlessness and unwavering belief in themselves, who wear their swagger like armor and live for the fight.

“These extraordinary people inspire us as well – inspire us to create an icon, change the game and raise the bar and then raise it higher still, because we believe you don't wish or hope your way to what's next. You make your way.”

While Grady is demonstrably proud of this finely honed manifesto, she’s currently unsure what to do with it. She’s not planning on publishing it in a full-page ad in the Times – not yet at least – but she is tempted to officially publicize it in some form, nonetheless.

One good thing has already come sharing it outside of Detroit: the manifesto landed Cadillac its big talent for the Oscars. The first ‘Make Your Way’ work broke onto TV sets with Regina King in the spotlight and Spike Lee behind the camera, both of whom commanded the attention of the Dolby Theater on the night itself.

“When Spike and Regina were read the manifesto ... they both said, ‘Hey, that's my story – that resonates with me,” said Grady. “It was really important for us to have something that represented who are we and what we stand for, and not just a brief of who the target is and what we’re doing.

“The brief needs to come from that deeper emotion."

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