As US and global auto markets cool, Cadillac’s success story keeps heating up. GM’s luxury brand posted a 33 percent increase in worldwide sales in November, the sixth consecutive month of double-digit increases.
China has emerged as a reliable “second hub” of Cadillac sales to its domestic US market. And in the crucial American market, while the new CT6 flagship sedan has drawn kudos, the most reliable nameplate in Cadillac’s fleet is an old reliable: Escalade. Sales of the hulking SUV rose by 24 percent in November over a year earlier, marking its best month of 2016 and its best November in nine years.
While CEO Johan de Nysschen and CMO Uwe Ellinghaus continue to make over Cadillac in the image of a contemporary lifestyle brand with worthy new products to back up the transformation and add to its excellent existing lineup, Escalade has remained the outlying leader.
The giant SUV has hung on as almost a sub-brand at Cadillac because of its high profit margins and its cult-like following among professional athletes and other celebrities, also exemplifying the industry’s growing primacy of luxury SUVs over sedans.
So far, Cadillac hasn’t forced the issue of how Escalade fits in, and it didn’t change the Escalade’s moniker when the brand introduced a new alphanumeric naming system with its latest models.
“Our marketing communication for Cadillac overall is very much about a bold, sophisticated, optimistic personality of our brand,” Ellinghaus told brandchannel. “Escalade’s a natural fit. The name ‘Escalade’ has so much cachet that we decided to keep it outside of Cadillac’s new nomenclature. Otherwise, it is Cadillac distilled.”
The latest social media campaign for Escalade calls it “King of a Different Jungle” and uses the same general visual language as Cadillac’s overall “Dare Greatly” campaign, relying on the shadows cast by other “jungle fighters” such as a lion and a prize fighter to telegraph the model’s importance and status.
— Cadillac (@Cadillac) December 30, 2016
Ellinghaus talked with brandchannel about the Escalade campaign and how it fits within the overall Cadillac brand.
bc: Cadillac hasn’t devoted much of its marketing budget to Escalade for years. What has changed?
Uwe Ellinghaus: We have advertised the Escalade during launch phases in the past, and we also advertised throughout the lifecycle, but indeed not with the media weight that the campaign “The Herd” had in the fourth quarter of 2015 and now in the fourth quarter of 2016. The results of our campaign in 2015 were so encouraging that we decided to repeat the same campaign one year later.
This is certainly unusual, but it worked. The Escalade is defying any lifecycle. It is certainly not the norm that sales go up by such percentages in the third year of a lifecycle. It underlines the iconic nature of the car. The Escalade has a segment share among large luxury SUVs of 35 percent, so more than one out of three SUVs sold in the category are Escalades.
bc: To what extent are you trying to bring the Escalade sub-brand under the Cadillac umbrella?
Ellinghaus: The Escalade is inherently Cadillac and always will be. In terms of the product, with Magnetic Ride Control and the handcrafted interior—we have key building blocks across our new range of products. In terms of branding, Escalade happens to be very unique in what has become a crowded field of SUVs. Every movement has its icons. When it comes to large luxury SUVs, the Escalade is the car all others are measured against.
bc: What is the message and intention behind the “King of a Different Jungle” tagline?
Ellinghaus: “King of a Different Jungle” is a fun campaign we developed for social media where we play with the shadow that Escalade casts, such as that of a lion or a prize fighter. So if a lion is the king of the jungle, Escalade is king of its own jungle. This is a fun, simple way to communicate the unique position the Escalade has earned in what has become a more crowded, competitive segment.
bc: What are the highlights of Cadillac’s 2016 for global sales, especially in China—and how does Escalade fit into that?
Ellinghaus: Certainly the brand overall is growing. We don’t yet have the year-end totals, but it’s quite clear that in 2016 Cadillac will sell around 10 percent more cars globally than in the year before. In light of declining sedan segments the world over, and with only two SUVs in the portfolio, this is a remarkable result.
The global expansion is important. Our rapid growth in the world’s largest market—China—has benefits here in the US as well. It enables us to be very disciplined in elevating brand prestige in our home market, as we earn growth globally. For instance, we’ve earned double-digit sales increases for the past several months, while at the same time our US average transaction prices have reached an all-time high. This comes from customers selecting more options, choosing higher levels of equipment due to our product substance.
We [were] on our way to sell more than 110,000 Cadillacs in China in 2016, a staggering 46 percent more than in the year before, making Cadillac one of the fastest-growing automotive luxury brands in the country. Whilst we will continue to hold steady in the US, it is only a question of a few more years before China will become Cadillac’s biggest market—ahead of the US.
bc: How do you steer the conversation about Escalade away from price?
Ellinghaus: We simply don’t need to steer it. Escalade is well established as a premium product. Our focus is on product substance and elevating the brand. A unique product from a strong brand will earn a fair price—there’s no better example than Escalade.