DETROIT -- Chat with Cadillac marketing chief Don Butler and you don't sense that this is a man with the weight of an iconic, 110-year-old brand on his shoulders.
The affable 48-year-old is quick with a smile and a booming laugh. But his easygoing demeanor belies the pressure that comes with mounting expectations heaped on Cadillac -- and Butler -- by his bosses.
Last month, General Motors CEO Dan Akerson declared his goal of quadrupling annual Cadillac sales in China to more than 150,000 units by 2018. Mark Reuss, GM's president of North America and the one who hired Butler, plugs the upcoming ATS sports sedan as built to "win" against the BMW 3 series, long the juggernaut of the luxury compact market.
"I have the easiest job in the world," he says. "I just need to get people to try the product."
That has been a difficult task for a long list of Cadillac marketers.
Over the past decade, Cadillac has struggled to broaden its appeal beyond its loyal core of affluent 60-something buyers, even after vastly improving its lineup over that time.
Cadillac's trucks have had some success. In 2009, a popular redesign of the SRX crossover ignited sales. Before that, the bling-laden Escalade SUV scored with rappers and other celebrities.
But younger, import-minded buyers largely have stayed away from Cadillac's cars, even though GM moved the CTS sedan to a rear-wheel-drive platform and added the V-series line of performance cars.
Now, GM execs believe that Cadillac's first new nameplates in a decade will put the brand closer to competing head-to-head with BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi. Butler's job is to persuade buyers to at least take a peek at the XTS large sedan, which arrives in showrooms this month, and the ATS, due by late summer.
The marketing efforts around the two launches amount to nothing short of a "relaunch" of the Cadillac brand, says Pat Fallon, chairman of Fallon Worldwide, the Minneapolis agency that produces Cadillac's creative work.
"It's a brand that has some momentum, but it's at the front end of some massive change," Fallon says. "Don is directing that, from product planning and launch planning to paid advertising and social. He's really involved across the board in what we consider to be a relaunch" of the brand.
As a GM lifer except for a brief stint with telematics startup Inrix Inc., Butler has seen plenty of marketing plans built around vehicles that he admits "didn't really live up to what we promised in the advertising."
That's why Butler plans to banish the "smoke and mirrors" and instead pinpoint attributes that should convince would-be buyers that this isn't their father's Cadillac. For example, some ATS spots likely will boast that it's the lightest car among luxury compacts, which aids fuel economy and handling.