Oscars 2015: Why Cadillac Eschewed the Super Bowl to Debut Its New Campaign

Cadillac Red Carpet - H 2015

Cadillac Red Carpet - H 2015

That annoying 1-percenter from last year's ad is obliterated as the carmaker picks the Academy Awards to debut its new campaign and targets upscaling Gen X and Y buyers as well as women.

This story first appeared in the Feb. 27 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

During last year's Oscars telecast, Cadillac generated social media outrage over an ad in which actor Neal McDonough portrayed an insufferable 1-percenter extolling America's work ethic at the expense of foreigners.

A year later and presumably wiser, Cadillac is back at the Oscars with no fewer than three spots after a sobering 2014 in which U.S. sales for competitors Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi soared but Cadillac's sputtered. (Cadillac's flagship sedan, the CTS, starts at $45,000; the roughly comparable Mercedes E350 stickers at $52,000.) The new ads, created by the agency Publicis Worldwide and which Cadillac is shrouding in secrecy, are the opening salvo in a brand overhaul that Cadillac marketing chief Uwe Ellinghaus says has "only one task: to disrupt people's perception of Cadillac." (The brand's teaser campaign is based on the new slogan, "Dare Greatly," taken from a 1910 Theodore Roosevelt address at the Sorbonne.)

Choosing the Oscars to unveil a crucial rebranding was no accident: In a bid to reach more upscale demographics as well as women, luxury carmakers, which have relied on major sporting events like the Super Bowl, increasingly leverage the Academy Awards for marketing mojo. (Oscars telecast advertisers this year include Samsung, Netflix, AT&T, Stella Artois and Coca-Cola, which returns after being replaced by Pepsi in 2014.)

In addition, the weeks leading up to the Feb. 22 ceremony allow luxury carmakers an opportunity to put their logos on high-profile display at industry events: Cadillac co-sponsored THR's Nominees Night party at Spago Beverly Hills on Feb. 2; Audi is co-sponsoring Suzy Amis Cameron's eco-fashion event Red Carpet Green Dress at Chateau Marmont on Feb. 19; and BMW is co-sponsoring (and shuttling VIPs to and from) Women in Film's pre-Oscar party Feb. 20 at Hyde Sunset Kitchen + Cocktails. On Oscar night, Mercedes is co-hosting a viewing party with the African-American Film Critics Association at the Four Seasons, and Audi is co-sponsoring the Elton John AIDS Foundation's viewing party at West Hollywood Park.

Ellinghaus says he considered launching Cadillac's brand reboot during the Super Bowl, "but it simply didn't feel right." Super Bowl XLIX ad rates were more than twice the $2 million ABC is charging for a 30-second spot during the Oscars, and the big game's record 114.4 million viewers (versus 43.7 million for the 2014 Oscars telecast) included demographics Cadillac, now attempting to woo upscaling Gen X and Y buyers, no longer is interested in courting.

"We have such a conceptual link between Hollywood and our brand heritage," says Ellinghaus. "The awards ceremony just felt to be the much better platform where we will be more relevant."