“Poolside” Wasn’t Originally an ELR Commercial, is Still Obnoxious
Cadillac CMO Ellinghaus says original version of the ad was "snobby, arrogant, and a little aloof." So how is this any different from the ad we actually got, then?
There’s a saying in advertising that there’s no such thing as bad press. Tell that to Cadillac, whose ELR commercial “Poolside” was widely considered to be two tons of smug, a little xenophobic, a whole bunch jingoistic, and embarrassingly self-congratulatory. But hey, it sure stirred up a great deal of interest for their electric hybrid coupe! The furor over the ELR commercial reached such a fever pitch that Craig Bierley, Cadillac’s advertising director, cleared the air with Automotive News, suggesting that “Poolside” was less a commercial for a product than it was an act of “brand provocation.”
If provocation was the aim, then score a bullseye for one Craig Bierley.
Bierley also went on the record as saying that the ad was aimed not at millionaires, but rather at the elusive $200k/year consumer with a “little bit of grit under their fingernails.” (But not too much grit, I’d guess; we’d sure hate for those mani/pedis from their weeklong retreat at the day spa to go to waste.)
Bierley also stated that the ad does not glorify materialism, but rather the fact that Americans love to work hard. Specifically, I should note, the fact that America loves to work harder than everyone else in the world. Oh, that probably explains why America ranks well below OECD standards in science and reading, dead last in math, and continues to fall behind Korea and a bunch of those slack-assing, work-11-months-out-of-the-year European countries in innovation.
Bierley did not explain, however, what the “Poolside” ad does to lure buyers away from the Tesla Model S or BMW’s i8 plug-in hybrid sports car. Here’s an irrefutable fact: Tesla and BMW’s greener offerings are effortlessly cool, and they don’t need ads telling you how great people who buy their cars are to get that appeal. With Tesla continuing to grow and the i8 getting ready to hit later this year, even with the latter being almost twice the price of the ELR, it’s a safe bet that they’re going to be all about eating Cadillac’s lunch.
Ellinghaus: “Boy, That ELR Commercial Sure Would Have Seemed Arrogant if We Hadn’t Put a Different Car In It!”
Of particular interest is an Ad Age interview with Cadillac CMO Uwe Ellinghaus, who says that the ELR commercial that has stirred up so much backlash was not even originally intended to feature the brand’s first plug-in hybrid vehicle at all.
In fact, Ellinghaus was concerned that “Poolside,” which featured another unnamed Cadillac vehicle in its original form, would have come across as “snobby, arrogant, and a little aloof.”
Really? Wherever would you get a crazy idea like that?
As such, Ellinghaus made the only decision he could to salvage the ad and prevent it from making his brand look like the dick at the party who nobody wants to talk to: put actor Neal McDonough behind the wheel of an ELR instead.
“Don’t worry about toning down the arrogance or anything, Jim, just put a different car in there. Nobody will be the wiser!” (At this point, Ellinghaus twirls his ridiculous Snidely Whiplash moustache around his finger.)
Cadillac’s ELR Commercial is About as Palatable as a Boiled Sheep’s Head
Ellinghaus says he believes making the ELR the focus of the sixty-second spot made the commercial “a little more socially palatable.”
Given the nature of “Poolside”—which seems in the eyes of many to tell anyone who isn’t American and can’t afford a million dollar home that their shortcomings are the result of not working hard enough—it’s likely that the ELR commercial is perhaps best equated to smalahove.
To some of a particular persuasion, smalahove is a delicious dish that is grounded in tradition and considered a delicacy. To others, it’s an utterly unappetizing sheep’s head. One group of people could look at it and say “oh, yeah, that resonates with me.” Another would probably only be able to look at it for as long as their stomach would allow. If you’ve never eaten smalahove and call it disgusting, you are neglecting the fact that this means something to a culture of people and that you cannot possibly relate to them because you are not in their shoes. If you say that other people are being near-sighted for not giving smalahove a chance and seeing it for something other than what it is at face value, you are disregarding the fact that you’re talking about a boiled sheep’s head.
Were it that “Poolside” was an ad for the new Escalade, it would have been smalahove—resonating with some while disgusting almost everyone else. Make it an ELR commercial, and what you’ve got is smalahove with a little salt on it.
Get It Together, Cadillac. You’re Not Lincoln Over Here.
Let’s get it straight here: Cadillac makes its bread and butter by making cars that Macklemore raps about and that young movers/shakers aspire to own. Producing out of touch, masturbatory nonsense like the ELR commercial will definitely provoke a reaction, but probably not the one they need as a brand that wants to take over the world.
Cadillac should stick with what works: combining luxury with a kind of unspoken cool. Making a commercial that—intentionally or not—suggests that wealthy Americans are better than the other 99 percent of the world’s population is decidedly not cool.
We expect better from you, Cadillac. We might expect this kind of commercial from Lincoln, but you know better than that. Go to your room and think about what you’ve done a while, and don’t come out until you have an ELR commercial that actually emphasizes what makes your hybrid better than anything else your competitors have to offer. We’re not mad at you, Cadillac. We’re just…disappointed.