Cadillac ELR Poolside Ad Still Making Waves

If you know what the “Poolside” ad is, Cadillac’s unabashed pro-American ELR commercial depicting a has-it-all stereotype may have been somewhat successful if not outright so.

Since the politically incorrect ad was posted to YouTube by Cadillac Feb. 7, and having since been shown during the Olympics, as of last night it had over 625,000 YouTube views with over 1,300 “likes” and over 850 “dislikes.”

In the last 8 hours since, it piled up over 7,000 more views. This indicates either a fair number of Americans watched it into the wee hours of the morning, or people around the world are cuing into an extreme characterization of American culture displayed by a premier American car company.

Cadillac’s ad budget is $250 million, and out of this, it wanted a commercial to snap peoples’ attention off their smartphones for a minute and onto Cadillac’s $76,000 extended-range electric ELR – a car it has since said is aimed at potential Tesla Model S buyers.

Recently in an Advertising Age interview with Cadillac’s ad director, Craig Bierley, he explained the 1-minute spot was about “brand provocation” despite a raft of “misconceptions.”

Since we first wrote about it the day it was launched on YouTube when it had under 250 views, other publications – with either a left- or right-leaning orientation – have waxed eloquently or not so much about it, as Ad Age observed.

Brigid Schulte, a Washington Post contributor “groaned” at the sight of a “middle-aged white guy” touting the “virtues of hard work, American style,” while walking through his lovely residence to a $76,000 EREV.

It was praised by Fox News contributor and founding member of the “Capitalistpig” hedge fund, Jonathan Hoenig, for celebrating wealthy America.

Neil Cavuto of Fox said it feeds negative ideas about the one-percenters, and used it as yet one more stab against the former Government Motors noting the irony.

The Huffpost got huffy about it too.

“Cadillac made a commercial about the American Dream — and it’s a Nightmare,” wrote Carolyn Gregoire, “The luxury car company is selling a vision of the American Dream at its worst: Work yourself into the ground, take as little time off as possible, and buy expensive sh*t [a Cadillac ELR].”

Not so fast

Bierley said the ad with actor Neal McDonough playing the proud American was actually aimed at the demographic earning $200,000 annually, not the truly rich, and some of these being self-made people like to occasionally reward themselves with a nice car.

Nor is it intended to focus on the most narcissistic and materialistic attitude conceivable, he said, but rather it speaks of hard work having its rewards, something intended to resonate with that demographic.

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“It’s basically saying hard work creates its own luck. In order to achieve it, you just have to believe anything’s possible,” said Bierlely. “You have to believe in yourself, you have to believe in possibilities. It’s really about optimism. It’s really a fundamental human truth: optimism about creating your own future. It’s not about materialism.”

Nor is it about “buy American,” but rather a brief list of great American accomplishments mentioned in the ad was supposed to appeal to Americans, he said, and if it was going to air outside the U.S., they might have toned those down.

“The last thing in the world we want to do is comes across as: ‘It’s your duty to buy an American car.’ I don’t think anybody wakes up wanting to hear that. … The strategy was really to play off the consumer insights around this notion of achievement earned through hard work and hustle — and celebrating that,” said Bierley. “Since it’s a U.S.-based spot, we used metaphors to talk about other people who received their success through hard work.”

Nor is it about America’s workaholic culture.

“We’re not making a statement saying, ‘We want people to work hard.’ What we’re saying is that hard work has its payoffs. Find something you love to do, do it incredibly well and there’s a reward for that. Whether its personal satisfaction, whether its fulfillment, whether that’s money.”

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Nor was it created to mess with people’s minds during the Olympics when nationalism is peaking. The ad was aired during NBC’s broadcast of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics opening ceremony.

Rather, Bierley said, it is a statement on American values, even if these values are not misunderstood by some. He said he was gratified the ELR was recognized as electrified.

“It’s sparked an interesting and thought-provoking debate,” said Bierley.

Uh Huh

Provoking a reaction was the goal of the ad created for Cadillac by the Rogue agency. As mentioned, it employed a tactic called “brand provocation” which carefully assembles the message, then lets the chips fall where they may in an ad ripe for “misperceptions.”

“Consider it mission accomplished,” wrote Ad Age.

It’s been said that “any publicity is good publicity,” and today major publications are still stirring the news cycle about a TV commercial about a car.

“But what people forget is that still just a car ad,” Ad Age wrote, paraphrasing Bierley.

Thus this too lent itself well to Cadillac’s plausible deniability factor if anyone was put off by an ad its creators knew could put people off.

Essentially, one can say “Poolside” was just a commercial to get everyone thinking. Get over it. And by the way, if it really offended you, of course that was not intended.

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Really? Or is that just the PC thing to say after the fact to a very un-PC ad, and is it impossible to prove otherwise?

Maybe this stance is not unlike when Michael Moore does a documentary that upsets the sensibility of some, while titillating others, and then excuses what was posed as journalism as “for entertainment purposes only?”

Right, and if a complete stranger walks up and seriously musses up your hair, then smiles and says, “just kidding,” how would you interpret that?

Cadillac’s high-priced, carefully scripted, and potentially offensive skit was ambiguous enough to be interpreted as benign while otherwise meant to spur reaction by people of all ideological orientations.

It was pretty well assured some would like it, or loathe it depending on worldview, and innate sensibility.

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Obviously no ad agency wants to turn people against the product or its manufacturer, but this ad took that chance. Bierley said reactions are about 3-1 in favor with young consumers on YouTube, but our count of 1,400 likes and 877 dislikes today is less than 2-1.

Last month Cadillac sold 58 units of the ELR, and a total of 115 have been sold since launch at the end of December.

To be frank, most people expect ads to attempt to move their feelings, so that’s nothing new.

Do you feel undue manipulation was in play? If so, does that bother you, or are you OK with it?

Or was the whole thing harmless, and some people with too much time on their hands need to lighten up?

Advertising Age