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ADV 411 Group paper assignment II Rebekah Childers Di’Ana Anderson Felicia Matthews Jazzmine Wade Cadillac as a cultural

Icon According to Holt, “The crux of iconicity is that the person or the thing is widely regarded as the most compelling symbol of a set of ideas or values that a society deems important.”1 In many ways, Cadillac has strived to become the crux of identity for luxury appeal. For over one hundred years of business Cadillac has been able to embody all the characteristics that Holt would ascribe a cultural icon. Cadillac has always been the American luxury automobile icon as well as a symbol of success. After World War II there was a huge growth in the number of people considered as middle class. Many of these people purchased Cadillac’s because of its uncanny ability to reflect success. Since its creation in 1902, Cadillac has been able to build an astounding biography filled with many industry advancements. For example, in 1910 Cadillac was the first American manufacturer to offer closed bodies as standard equipment. Four years later Cadillac was the first to use thermostatic control of a cooling system. Again in 1926 Cadillac developed a comprehensive service policy on a nationwide basis. Their advertisements reflected this progression as they mainly focused on the product. However, Cadillac is not considered a cultural icon solely based on its luxury status, but also due to its ability to grow with its consumers. Many Cadillac advertisements were able to consistently resonate with and appeal to their once young target as they grew older. For example,
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Holt, pg. 1

the 1989 “Cadillac style” ad2 boosted the Cadillac’s style, safety, and superior features. This ad in comparison to the 1950 Cadillac ads3, the positing of the car as a superior stylish American car stays consistent. Over time, Cadillac became strongly associated with older consumers. However, by looking at recent commercials it seems Cadillac have been trying to slightly alter their positioning strategy while keeping the core brand values. The new Cadillac CTS advertisement deviates from the conventional advertisements. The commercial entitled “Turn You On” features prominent actress Kate Walsh. Almost from the very start it is obvious that a different experience will be offered compared to previous Cadillac commercials. The commercial begins with the Cadillac script logo embellished across the screen. Behind the logo appears a night scene of a city that rapidly fades into oblivious lights. Kate’s smooth voice is heard, and then the camera zooms in on her face and the inside of the car as she speeds at what appears to be torque speed. She enters a tunnel almost at the speed of light and continues to talk about the features in luxury cars that she says aren’t important. However, as she describes the sunroof, 40 gig hard drive, the wood accents, and the pop-up navigation screen she camera spans the interior and exterior of the car; zooming in on each feature as she says them. The Cadillac symbol is shown and then the music picks up as if hitting the bridge of the song and the camera closes in on her foot pushing down on the gas peddle as she speeds on through the city so fast that nothing but beams of light can be seen. This new Cadillac CTS advertisement is a radical departure from the traditional style of Cadillac ads. Past Cadillac print and broadcast ads were specifically product driven and

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Ad example: http://youtube.com/watch?v=Vlr-66cu-vM Ad example: http://youtube.com/watch?v=1MAFxbpNh20

although many stylish attributes were shown in this commercial Cadillac seemed to be sending a different message - a message that identifies the car attributes as more then what they are. The new Cadillac marketing campaign challenges the earlier perceptions. While still promoting luxury, this new commercial introduces dramatically styled yet high performance vehicles for the purpose of personal satisfaction. The new slogan “Life. Liberty. And The Pursuit.” enables Cadillac to embody the best of America while embracing the brands strong heritage. This ad is one of the many new ads that are modern and very forward reaching. Through this new campaign and especially this commercial, Cadillac is attempting to reach out to the younger more technologically savvy demographic while trying to stay true to its American brand heritage. The production techniques further this initiative through its special effects, music, and cinematography. The new technology utilized in this commercial gives it a modern appeal. The producers utilized screens in a majority of the commercial. The screens depicts travel through the city at such a fast pace that everything is minimized to pure streaks of light. The beams of light are bright and very intriguing. The song used is entitled Stars by Hum. It is very low and mellow in the beginning but peaks toward the end of the commercial. It fits perfectly with the new campaign because of its modern feel. The commercial is located within a major downtown city at night; typically a place young trendy people are found socializing. The entire commercial stresses the characteristics of Cadillac; luxury and lush with a modern twist. Now that we understand the production techniques of the advertisement, we must look deeper into the semiotics of the brand to identify its true symbolic meaning. Understanding what the advertisement means will help determine whether or not this brand is a successfully created

identity brand. In How Brands Become Icons: The Principals of culture branding, Douglas Holt gives us a framework for evaluating Identity brands. Holt critiques different advertisements and more specifically brands in their success and ability to connect with consumers through resolving cultural myths in a populist world. Holt defines populist worlds as “autonomous places where people’s values are perceived to be guided by intrinsic values, not by money or power; populist worlds serve as the cultural raw materials from which identity myth are constructed” (Holt, 11) In other words, populist worlds can be defined as a social space where one feels comfortable enough to be their true selves and feel that others around them are also authentic. Authentic in this sense also means free from “commerce and elite control”4. This is especially important in advertising because brands are able to hold more credibility and appeal more strongly if they are thought to be genuine. Holt also discusses cultural myths. Cultural myths act to piece back together “tears in the social fabric of society”. Cultural myths assist in resolving contradictions in society that often evoke anxiety. In this Cadillac CTS advertisement, there does not seem to be a clear populist world represented or realm where true values emerge except perhaps - as embodied in Kate Walsh. Kate Walsh as mentioned earlier is a well known and liked sitcom and movie actress that serves as the voice of the ad. Her voices gives the advertisement and brand a sense of authenticity, but only for a person that feels Kate Walsh is credible and feels closely aligned with her publicized characteristics. In this sense, Kate Walsh in her tunnel of zooming speeds and colors is very much a part of a populist world. It is significant to note that Kate Walsh is a woman who uses the
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Holt, Douglas, How brands Become Icons: The Principles of Cultural Branding. 2004 Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation

phrase “turns you on”. This says to her followers that she is the type of women who is in touch with her sexuality in a refined way. And she too is free to pursue her own happiness. On the other hand, if a person who is unfamiliar with Kate Walsh watched the advertisement they would have completely different feelings towards the ad. An unfamiliar person might feel as though the advertisement does not carry significant meaning, and may even be confused at the ad’s content because of its contradictions. In terms of a cultural myth, there does seem to be a contradiction the commercial attempts to resolve. In fact, as discussed earlier, when Kate was is reciting how much the features and assets of the Cadillac CTS are not important; the features are being shown in a stylist and sophisticated way. This is most likely an attempt by the brand to tap into the cultural contradiction of conformity versus individuality. As Americans, we are seen as being very individualistic especially in comparison with some Asian cultures. As Americans we value being able to stand out above others, we also value luxury and success. While all of these statements are true, when everyone together feels the need to have luxurious status symbol brands, it erodes the value for everyone claiming these brands, and there in lies the cultural contradiction. As Americans we ask ourselves - how can we distinguish ourselves as successful and thriving individuals with out the luxury brand clichés? Sometimes a luxury brand is built upon its exclusivity, what happens when this element is taken away? Cadillac seems to be positioning itself as an American “feel good brand”. In this advertisement, the cultural identity is materialized through the voice of Kate Walsh who proclaims that while her car does have all the attractive features one would look for in a stylish, and a car made to be shown off - she is attracted to the car because it is able to make her feel satisfied in her pursuit of happiness.

At the end of the ad we see the words “Life, Liberty, and The pursuit”. Again, this seems to be showing strong American values that Cadillac would like to be associated with the brand. However, this may also be an attempt to tap into the current national Ideology. Holt discusses how it is necessary for brands to relate to a national ideology to be effective. The national ideology complete with citizen’s identity projects help make up the cultural contradictions in our society. For Americans’ in the last decade, many events have sparked feeling of either intimacy or isolation from American cultures. A few of the important examples would be 9/11, hurricane Katrina, the war in Iraq, and the 2001 election. Because of this, many Americans may feel conflicted about their values. Questions like – how can I oppose the war but still want to support the troops? – arise in society. In this ad, Cadillac offers a way for a person to strive for the pursuit of happiness through materialism but also has the ability to distinguish that object from the common nuances of a luxury brand to a feeling and desire for happiness. To understand Cadillac it is useful to compare it with other brands and their myths. Cadillac competes with the myths of many other brands. While Cadillac is considered a luxury car and displays this in the ads some other luxury cars do not show that they are luxury but instead focus on other aspects. For example, Mercedes Benz focuses on safety and security, Audi on design and comfort, and BMW on being the ultimate driving machine. None of these “luxury” car company’s have their focus on just that. Their myth markets are totally different from the Cadillac brands. Although it seems as if all luxury vehicles would fall into the same myth market this is far from the truth with these cars. While theses cars are naturally in competition just because they are “luxury” cars they also are in competition when it comes to myth markets because they all identify with different myth markets. Keeping that in mind, we can see that

other cultural texts do not really influence this brands myth market because they are appealing to other markets. For example, “luxury” to consumers may have different meaning; the “luxury” appealing to a person in the BMW populist world is distinctly different from the world and appeal of “luxury” Cadillac which has characteristic American values behind it. Cadillac is also a brand with a number of ethoses, however what has been fore fronted in the ads for decades now is the fact that Cadillac represents American. Consumers of the brand and those in the commercials symbolize citizens that are proud to be American. This is due to the fact that driving a Cadillac can be seen as the American thing to do or possibly even patriotic. Another ethos of this brand is status. It is seen as a car for an individual who has class about them and desires to have luxurious things. Overall this brand’s ethos has been developed though its association with American values. It has been given authenticity to those who can identify with Kate Walsh as a member of a populist world. In the past, the populist world that existed made a statement of American superiority and patriotism. Cadillac has proven itself as a cultural icon with its American values and traditions, its luxury appeal, and its superior style and class. All these values seem to hint at the American values of individualism, the pursuit of happiness, and more. However, as Americans change and their values change, Cadillac has altered its position slightly. It sill remains to be seen if Cadillac will continue to personify American values in a way that seems truly authentic and relevant.