Have you seen the new Cadillac ads on TV? The ones featuring Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll”? Damn, those ads just rock, don’t they? Except that they’re some of the worst ads on television, and it has nothing to do with Zep or selling out or anything like that.
The spots juxtapose a gorgeous, mint 1959 El Dorado with some of Cadillac’s new models (the CTS, XLR, Escalade and Escalade EXT) in an attempt to “leverage” (as we say in the corporate world) the legendary style of the ’50s, when cars were bigger than life. They’re using the classic Caddy, which we associate with all kinds of rose-colored Americana, to “give the rub” (as they say in the “sports entertainment” biz) to the new breed. They’re putting the two together and asking you to conclude that, damn, these new Caddies are every bit as stylish and cool as the originals. They’re American classics!
Which is fine, except that the new breed of Cadillacs are as sterile, bloodless, and devoid of originality as everything else on the road these days. Yeah, the Escalade is popular as hell and has become something of a status symbol, especially among pro athletes and other rich criminal types. But that doesn’t make it stylish or original or anything else except expensive and popular. The Escalade is, if I might wax metaphorical for a second, sort of an automotive Britney Spears. Do you really think TV ads in 40 years will be holding up the Escalade as representative of some kind of Golden Age of automotive design? Me, either.
In contrast, the old Cadillacs were definitive statements of the American personality, with unapologetically elaborate lines and a commitment to being unlike anything else on the road. If you want to know a thing or two about America in the ’50s, look at the cars we drove. We’re a culture that always worshiped the road, and the people who designed the old Caddy featured in the commercial approached the task with a sense of reverence not unlike that of the artisans chosen to work on the majestic cathedrals of Medieval Europe.
I can’t help thinking that a lot of folks watching these commercials are reacting in precisely the opposite way Cadillac would like them to – I mean, if you were trying to prove to me that the 2002 Caddy was a pale, pathetic shadow of what it once was, these are the exact ads you’d present me with (except instead of “Rock and Roll” you’d substitute in something from Elton John’s latest CD so as to really emphasize how the mighty have fallen).
Then again, maybe the campaign is working brilliantly for the good folks at General Motors. I’m hardly the barometer you use when trying to gauge the masses, and we aren’t the people we once were, are we? Nope, once we were a society that produced fabulously cool things. Now we produce ordinary things and create ads that tell us how fabulously cool they are.
If perception is reality, then it’s all pretty much the same effect, huh?