I was driving to the local baseball field this week (very slowly–there’s a townwide sidewalk construction project underway and every street is a work zone). Coming the other way was a big Cadillac driven by someone in the Cadillac market sweet spot–a 75-year-old guy. Which got me wondering about Cadillac and GM’s restructuring and the flashy, angular Caddies they’ve been selling for the past 10 years. The guy I saw was driving an older Seville, long and smoother, a real Caddy.
A few years ago Harvard Business Review’s annual “breakthrough ideas” section included a piece called “Brand Magic: Harry Potter Marketing” by Frédéric Dalsace, Coralie Damay, and David Dubois. The essay argued that marketers, rather than continually trying to reinvent brands to make them relevant to a younger demographic, should allow the brand to follow its audience, aging as they do–the same way Harry Potter ages, from book to book, as his readers age.
To me, it seems a lot easier to manage Cadillac to its demographic and then create some other brand to pick up younger drivers. Easier said than done, I know. But the continual, tortured reimagining of Cadillac is symbolic, I think, of GM’s Sisyphean effort over the past 30 years to show that Alfred P. Sloan’s strategy of “a car for every purse and purpose” had legs. [I mean, did the rap-star-accessory 2001 Escalade really point the way to the future of the brand?]
Trying to reposition a brand involves cutting out some (most?) of what makes it appealing to its current audience. That’s expensive. It also involves a leap of faith–that the name and brand equity can be made meaningful to a new audience.
By pouring billions of investment in new product and advertising to change Cadillac, GM could have nurtured Saturn from a brand that 20-somethings valued (its early 90’s positioning–I know because I drove one!) to one that appeals to forty-somethings: the “aspirational” buyers that Cadillac drew during the ’60’s and ’70’s. It probably wouldn’t have changed much with GM as a whole, but it’s almost certain that they wouldn’t be ditching Saturn and keeping Cadillac if they had done that.
Seems to me that Toyota, with Scion, has the chance to do “Harry Potter Marketing” right. It will be interesting to see if, in 20 years, Scion is still selling weird young-people cars, or ones that their current owners–who’ll be older and wealthier–really want to drive.
(Photo: left, the 2001 Cadillac Seville; right, the 2002 Cadillac Escalade EXT)