It’s a rough start when your new China spokesman is banned from China—but it appears Cadillac is going ahead with a new deal to make Brad Pitt its face in the world’s fastest growing auto market.
Though with sales plunging in China and Audi and BMW eating its lunch, the brand needs to do something. It’s too bad that even Brad Pitt won’t likely be able to sell the Chinese an angry car they don’t want.
Cadillac’s new $3 million dollar endorsement with Pitt (Bradillac?) may add some perspective to Pitt’s recent, less than smooth entry to Chinese social media. In January, Pitt joined microblogging platform Weibo and posted “Yep, it is the truth. I am coming…”
The news was forwarded tens of thousands of times by those wondering if China’s ban on the actor—following his film “Seven Years in Tibet”—had been lifted. Just a few weeks later, Pitt’s account disappeared. It’s unclear if the actor himself deleted it or if Weibo shut it down, something the platform is wont to do. [more]
Autos turning to celebrities for China is nothing new. George Clooney cheated on his “wife” for Mercedes-Benz, while actress Zhang Ziyi tore around a parking garage for the brand’s SLK model. A more common practice is partnering with athletes: Jeremy Lin for Volvo, Kobe Bryant for Smart Car, Liu Xiang for BMW and Roger Federer for Mercedes.
Despite his ban, Pitt is wildly popular in China. His movies are widely available online and on DVD. His recent controversial campaign for Chanel is evident outside some of the chicest stores on Shanghai’s Nanjing Road. But as an official envoy, Pitt could be a problem.
The target audience for Cadillacs and the message buying a Pitt-endorsed one sends in a nation where relationships are everything and citizens go out of the way not to offend potential business partners is a potential wrench in the works when so many of those potential business partners are the government.
Pitt’s addition is just another lurch in Cadillac’s blunderbuss marketing approach to China. In 2011, the brand partnered with Hong Kong star Karen Mok (better known locally by her English nickname, “Money”). Ironically, the year before that Cadillac sponsored the film “The Birth of a Party,” a chronicle of the 20th century rise to power of China’s Communist Party, the same group responsible for banning its new spokesman.
Cadillac’s China problems are far more serious than whether or not “Benjamin Button” can reverse Cadillac’s fortunes in the nation. The automaker currently makes a car completely wrong for China’s sensibilities.
In America, Cadillac’s iconic American legacy has recently been complimented by a stress of high-end performance. The look of Cadillac’s models have followed suit. In China, however, where Porsche 911s are regularly seen decked out in Hello Kitty stickers, performance is far down the list of concerns. Cadillac’s luxury lineage is largely unknown to Chinese buyers, who now see a sharp-angled, aggressive-looking, angry contraption that may appeal to Americans but could not be less fitting for Chinese culture. The edgeless, bosomy curves of an Audi, BMW or Mercedes are far more fitting.
A smooth character like Pitt might help round Cadillac off, but the new XTS itself might do it for itself. The 2013 XTS’ curved, half-mooned features are more water droplet than knife edge. If Cadillac combines the look with the correct stress of luxury over performance, it’s China fortunes just might turn around, Pitt or no Pitt.
It’s clear Cadillac needs to do something. As other high-end automakers see year-over-year gains in China, Caddy’s sales are taking a beating. In January, GM sold 1,570 Cadillacs, almost half of January 2012’s 2,987. GM plans to bring its total Cadillac China dealerships to 200 in 2013, but as Bloomberg noted, the year-over-year 47 percent drop in unit sales is “the sharpest on record and lowest monthly volume since 2010.” Meanwhile, Audi, which saw a 7.1 percent sales increase in 2012, is predicting up to 8 percent growth in 2013.
Despite its daunting challenge, it could be worse for Cadillac in China though; it could be Lincoln.
Check out the rather odd Cadillac commercial starring Pitt. (Please excuse the French and funny graphics—the ad plays at about the 00:25 mark.)
Bradillac photoshop images via Weibo. One more fan-made commercial below.