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Does the Cadillac Ad Make You Proud to Be Successful?

An ad that was aired during the Olympics has provoked much debate about what it means to be successful.

The ad in question is for the new Cadillac ELR electric car:


How it was received

The editors at the Huffington Post did not like it:

Cadillacs have long been a quintessentially American symbol of wealth and status. But as this commercial proves, no amount of wealth or status is a guarantee of good taste. Now, the luxury car company is selling a vision of the American Dream at its worst: Work yourself into the ground, take as little time off as possible, and buy expensive sh*t (specifically, a 2014 Cadillac ELR).

The folks at Future Voices of America did like it:

The focus of the commercial was not about the “material things,” but about the essence of the hard working American culture and what that has produced over time. This has very little to do with a million dollar home or a pool in the back yard, and everything to do with the ingenuity of Americans that made us the fastest growing civilization in modern history. The early colonists came to this country in the same method of transportation mankind had been using for over 5,000 years… BOATS. Within 200 years we went from using boats, the same method of transportation the ancient Egyptians used, to creating rocket ships that sent man to the moon, and all of this took place within 200 years. What?

Dedicated to success

Here is what I have to say as a hard-working, self-employed, life insurance salesman:

My entire industry has been built on the backs of people committed to success.

Every step of the process — from the sale, to the underwriting, to the policy service, to all the corporate functioning — is driven by somebody dedicated to success.

These leaders set high standards for productivity and performance. People often to have to give it their extra effort to get the job done right.

The net result is that American consumers get the policies they want, when they want them, at the prices they want to pay.

Everybody wins. This is what success is all about.

A lot of people do not understand this, so they do not get the commercial. Craig Bierley, Cadillac’s Advertising Director, clears up some of these misconceptions:

It’s aimed at the richest 1 percent
Not so, says Bierley. Rather than millionaires, the spot’s targeted at customers who make around $200,000 a year. They’re consumers with a “little bit of grit under their fingernails” who “pop in and out of luxury” when and how they see fit, he said. “These are people who haven’t been given anything. Every part of success they’ve achieved has been earned through hard work and hustle…. One of the ways they reward themselves for their hard work is through the purchase of a luxury car,” he said.

It’s about materialism
Go back and watch the beginning, said Bierley. Right up front, McDonough dismisses the idea the reason American work so hard is to buy “stuff.” What he’s really saying is that Americans work hard because that’s what they love do. Luxury cars and other expensive goodies are a byproduct of success; not the objective.

“It’s basically saying hard work creates its own luck. In order to achieve it, you just have to believe anything’s possible. You have to believe in yourself, you have to believe in possibilities. It’s really about optimism. It’s really a fundamental human truth: optimism about creating your own future. It’s not about materialism.”

It’s a ‘Buy American’ spot
That’s wrong, too. McDonough references the U.S. moon landing, Bill Gates and the Wright Brothers because the ad is only designed to run in the U.S., not overseas. If “Poolside” was designed as a global ad, the references would be more global.

Cadillac does not to “guilt” people into buying an American rather than a European luxury car, said Bierley. “The last thing in the world we want to do is comes across as: ‘It’s your duty to buy an American car.’ I don’t think anybody wakes up wanting to hear that…. The strategy was really to pay off the consumer insights around this notion of achievement earned through hard work and hustle — and celebrating that. Since it’s a U.S.-based spot, we used metaphors to talk about other people who received their success through hard work.”

It celebrates the USA’s workaholic culture
Reaction is running about 3-1 in favor of the spot with the young consumer audience on YouTube, said Bierley. But some people are offended at the perceived workaholic message when millions of people are out work and others are just getting by. Again, that’s not what Cadillac intended, Bierley said.

“We’re not making a statement saying, ‘We want people to work hard.’ What we’re saying is that hard work has its payoffs. Find something you love to do, do it incredibly well and there’s a reward for that. Whether its personal satisfaction, whether its fulfillment, whether that’s money.”

It was created for the Olympics, when nationalism runs high
Wrong, said Bierley. Instead, Rogue found and cast McDonough in an early version of the spot that they used to pitch and ultimately win Cadillac’s $250 million creative account last year. Cadillac and Rogue later went back and remade the spot with McDonough to create the version on-air now. “We just liked his attitude,” said Bierley about the character actor who’s starred on HBO’s “Band of Brothers” and other shows.

It’s a dissertation on American values
Sure, said Bierley. But what people forget is that still just a car ad. What made Cadillac happiest is consumers recognize ELR as an electric car — although McDonough never states that explicitly. “It’s sparked an interesting and thought-provoking debate,” said Bierley.

Think about your own success:

Has it come any differently?