It isn't every day Cadillac brings in a new agency to help with its advertising. In fact, it hadn't ever happened until late last year, when Cadillac tapped a tiny New York shop, Berlin, Cameron & Partners, to help create introductory TV advertising for its new Escalade sport-utility.
Cadillac's move to bring in Berlin has reinforced rumors in advertising circles that D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, Cadillac's agency since 1915, is in trouble with GM's luxury division. But Martin Walsh, Cadillac's marketing services manager, disputes that gossip. 'Nobody knows our business like DMB&B,' Walsh says.
Berlin, with 30 employees, is not a fully integrated, full-service agency. Nor is it known for its own distinctive style of advertising. Instead, it matches its creative output with the views of its clients and works on a project basis with other ad agencies.
Just a year old
The agency was started in November 1997 by two men with extensive automotive advertising experience, Andy Berlin and Ewen Cameron. They worked at Doyle Dane Bernbach on Volkswagen and at other agencies on Honda and Isuzu campaigns. The two partners got the call from Cadillac after impressing Phil Guarascio, General Motors' vice president of advertising, a year earlier with the crisp execution of a small GM project involving the Olympic games.
'They're extremely focused and analytical,' Guarascio says. 'They do good work.'
Berlin clients include Coca-Cola, the National Broadcasting Co., Ralston-Purina, Reebok and the National Basketball Association.
Says Cameron: 'We proved ourselves as a problem-solving, value-added creative resource. It's (the client's) culture, identity and brand character - not ours - that defines our creative (work).'
In addition to Guarascio's recommendation, Cadillac chose the little agency in part because of its ability to work with clients who want to portray a strong point of view. 'We definitely have a strong point of view and opinions about Cadillac's creative product, culture and identity,' Walsh says. And that viewpoint 'is a reflection of where we were when Cadillac was America's luxury car: bold and proud. Our new designs aren't retro, but in that regard our attitude is.'
Cadillac, indeed, was America's luxury car, and hailed itself as such in one of the most famous auto ads of this century: 'The Penalty of Excellence.' That ad was written by T.F. MacManus in 1915, and it propelled Cadillac and the D'Arcy agency to prominence in the retail and advertising worlds. But Cadillac has lost much of its luster and is seriously being challenged by Lincoln and Mercedes for the luxury sales crown.
Cadillac's current mission, according to Walsh, will be to revisit that period of time when Cadillac was most successful and was viewed as America's luxury car. 'We want to recreate that feeling,' he says.
Walsh and Cameron say there has been strong sharing of information and strategies between the new agency and DMB&B. Berlin is producing a major commercial for the launch of the Escalade, and it may produce subsequent spots as the campaign evolves.
DMB&B, meanwhile, is developing the introductory print advertising for the Escalade. Almost 30 print campaign concepts were proposed, researched and reviewed before six finalists emerged. As in other Cadillac ad campaigns, the print ads will appear in a variety of magazines. Like the TV advertising from Berlin, the DMB&B print ads will have a retro feel.
The Cadillac-D'Arcy relationship is just fine, thank you, says Alex Morton, executive vice president and worldwide group account director on the Cadillac account at D'Arcy. 'It has been a very healthy productive relationship,' he says. 'We've made adjustments, as has Cadillac.'