Next month, Cadillac will be opening the public part of its year-old global headquarters in New York: Cadillac House, a 12,000-square-foot, highly curated “design house” for coffee, art, fashion—and an occasional automobile—on the ground floor of its HQ at 330 Hudson Street in west SoHo. Aiming beyond retail or the traditional car dealership and showroom, it’s a platform to communicate the heart, art and soul of the GM-owned brand.
By moving its HQ from Detroit to Manhattan last year, its pivot to positioning as a lifestyle luxury brand and its “Dare Greatly” marketing campaign focused on achievers in design and other high-level pursuits who are “driving the world forward,” Cadillac has been trying to persuade premium auto consumers that it has broken with its stodgy traditions and become a marque worthy of its products.
This has laid the groundwork for its most important product launches in many years: the all-new, flagship CT6 sedan, which is trickling into Cadillac dealerships right now, and the upcoming XT5, a mid-size crossover that replaces the SRX and comes along at a time when this segment is dominating sales across the auto market.
Signaling its intentions for its NYC home, the automaker previewed the Cadillac House space mid-construction last year to host the invitation-only spring 2016 runway show for the NYC menswear label Public School as part of the inaugural New York Fashion Week for menswear, a milestone event that Cadillac sponsored for the CFDA.
It’s wooing more designers to come and play in the space, hosting a kickoff event with CFDA chair Diane von Furstenberg as an invite to participate in the Retail Lab pop-up shop taking place in July: “Introducing #RetailLab — a custom retail shop in the heart of Cadillac’s headquarters dedicated to mentoring and inspiring daring members of the fashion community. Brought to you by @CFDA x #Cadillac”
With Cadillac House opening its doors to the public on June 2, the goal is to underscore, in an understated but impactful way, the new attitude and brand positioning championed by the automaker’s brain trust as its playbook for reviving a venerable brand for a modern era.
“Context still matters,” Cadillac CMO Uwe Ellinghaus told brandchannel. “If we can find a way to use the fact that we’re in this very cool location in SoHo and become one of the many ‘in’ places to be for the curious and the creative, the innovators and the creators, we have achieved something. And I think that this great location and the creative vibe that surrounds 330 Hudson is the perfect place to get to the creative class and crowd—but only if you offer the proper program.”
At Cadillac House, the order of the day will be creative collaborations and programming, with a menu that includes a quarterly exhibit curated by Visionaire, the design-focused magazine and agency, with the first art show featuring Geoffrey Lillemon, also a creative director on the Miley Cyrus Bangerz tour; a pop-up shop operated by New York-based fashion brand Timo Weiland; and, wafting in the air, a signature “Cadillac” fragrance created for the space by the olfactory branding firm 12.29, which has produced scents for Rodarte and Lady Gaga. And because no New York experience is complete without the scent and taste of fine java, NYC’s own Joe brand is providing the coffee.
Yes, Cadillac will populate the spot with vintage car models and its new CT6 and XT5 models, but visitors can’t purchase, or even order, a car. That’s besides the point for this soft-sell lounge. “The people we will have there will be brand ambassadors, not sales executives,” Ellinghaus noted. “If people want to buy cars they will have to go to local dealers.”
brandchannel spoke with Ellinghaus for more insights on the thinking behind Cadillac House, from the drawing board (above) to the looming opening and beyond, and how it serves as a proof point and laboratory for its global brand platform, “Dare Greatly”:
bc: Uwe, why open a brand experience center for Cadillac? Certainly this isn’t a new idea, even among premium auto brands, and other brands such as Under Armour are opening one.
Uwe Ellinghaus: Sure, we’re not the only brand with a brand experience center. But we’re not trying only to create a “Cadillac world” with a physical manifestation of our brand identity—but to create a reason to come to Cadillac. And we’re totally aware that a mere showroom with cars wouldn’t do the job in New York. Not even the most exciting digital content would really bring people to the Cadillac House. We really think we need a carefully curated program that goes all over the place, over the course of a year, to give people a reason to come.
That is why you can’t compare Cadillac House to brand experience centers that some of our competitors have erected in London and elsewhere, because they, by and large, feature their cars and technology, and a lot of the content is digital. But they aren’t curated programs.
The target audience for us is highly brand-skeptical. If they realize a brand doesn’t have a point of view or isn’t serious about making itself part of the worlds of art, fashion and design, we will fail in our mission. It’s an important milestone—and a proof point for “Dare Greatly”—that with Cadillac House we once again go a step further than our competitors do.
bc: How does Cadillac House underscore your brand, especially with your target audience of cultural creatives?
Ellinghaus: We want to demonstrate how serious we are about building a contemporary auto luxury brand and that we go our own way, and walk the talk, and actually “dare greatly.” And there’s a certain amount of risk involved in this. It’s not easy to find your way in the art and fashion scene in New York, but [we] have very good partners in the entire space, and that helps a lot. Also, Visionaire and the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) see that our approach is long-term—we don’t just want to attach our logo anywhere.
So in that regard, we have a level of goodwill in the creative scene in New York, and an absolutely cool place in an iconic location, with the hope that even busy New Yorkers—who normally look nowhere and never stop—will stop by and maybe come regularly, provided the territorial elements remain interesting. I have no doubt they will.
bc: What other manifestations are we going to see of “Dare Greatly” in the months ahead?
Ellinghaus: We will work with people we’ve already featured in the campaign, such as a collaboration with Jason Wu (following last year’s capsule collection with Nick Wooster). But I don’t want us to limit ourselves to one, two or three widely recognized spokespersons. Other brands do that. Our target group is educated and self-confident, and I don’t think they will change their perceptions of the Cadillac brand if we’re in league with whatever celebrity it might be.
bc: Are you getting what you hoped for a year or so after you left Detroit for New York, which was certainly a daring move?
Ellinghaus: It’s difficult to judge. As far as motivation in my new team is concerned, I couldn’t have wished for a better result. I hired world-class talent that, fortunately, believed in the Cadillac mission—and New York helped a lot to attract them. But we can only keep them passionate and motivated if they realize we walk the talk.
bc: How important are the upcoming launch campaigns for CT6 and XT5?
Ellinghaus: We are very optimistic about both CT6 and XT5. We have huge numbers of hand-raisers (expressing interest in purchasing). The public interest in CT6 is absolutely amazing and dealers are telling me they are seeing clientele in their showrooms who they haven’t seen over the past decade—people who want or need cars larger than our ATS or CTS and now are coming back to Cadillac.
Below, check out digital mock-ups of the Cadillac House experience:
All images & videos copyright Gensler.