news: What Cadillac Can Teach Us About Positioning a Brand
February 22, 2017

What Cadillac Can Teach Us About Positioning a Brand

Passion, Optimism, and Sophistication


Positioning is crucial in marketing. It’s about reflecting what you offer, who you offer it to, and how it’s different from the competition. Stated simply, a brand’s position is the space it occupies in consumers’ minds. A strong position can be a powerful asset for a brand. For example: Apple is the innovator, Microsoft is the jack-of-all-trades, Linux is for the connoisseur.  

Or, think of cars: Volvo is the safe car, BMW is the ultimate driving machine, a Toyota just won’t break. These positions have all served these companies well for decades. Today, we’ll look at an extremely successful example of another automobile company choosing to reposition – Cadillac’s campaign in 2014.  

Even many years later, studying the Cadillac repositioning offers some key insights. Prior to 2014, Cadillac had tried to position itself as many things over its history with varying levels of success: comfortable and luxurious, bold and sporty, and artful and advanced.  

But positioning is more than a single association with a simple concept: it defines what a brand does, who it’s for, and what makes it different. 


What Is Positioning? 

Positioning a brand is to control perceptions of it in the marketplace relative to the competition. This way, the brand occupies (or even outright owns) a certain position in customers’ minds, whether it’s an individual product, service, or the entire company. A well-positioned brand will be one of the top ones a consumer calls to mind when they need what that brand offers.  

There are many forms of positioning, such as positioning for a certain type of customer, positioning relative to the competition, or positioning in a certain category, but all should present the brand in a differentiating, compelling, and most importantly authentic manner. 

If a brand’s performance is weak or worsening, or its offering is changing, a company might try to reposition in order to excel under current market conditions. Repositioning differs from rebranding in that a rebrand is more of an aesthetic overhaul of a brand. With a rebrand, the positioning statement and foundation of the company could stay the same, but the name, logo, colours, taglines, messaging, and even customer experience might change. One need not necessarily rebrand to reposition. 


From Boomer-mobile to Booming Sales 

Prior to 2014, Cadillac – the car of icons like Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin – was becoming the stale and dated vehicle of anyone from that era still around to drive. Once, it had been the pinnacle of the American automobile industry, associated with sophistication, distinction, and the highest quality. Now, Cadillac was stuck in the past and not speaking to the right audience.  

Enter Uwe Ellinghaus, Cadillac’s new CMO. With a CV that includes Montblanc and BMW, Ellinghaus recognized that no other automobile company was aligning itself with the entrepreneurial, fashion-forward, art-focused, and food-obsessed people of America’s metropolitan cities. 

Under Ellinghaus, Cadillac would present itself instead as a brave, resilient American icon, a car that isn’t afraid to push boundaries and is unapologetically daring in its styling. Cadillacs stand out, and Cadillacs are for people who are bold enough to stand out, not just in terms of image, but in terms of pursuits and accomplishments.  

“Our world burns brightest for those who fly highest. For those for whom the life worth living exists just beyond one’s limits, Cadillac is the co-conspirator in their irrepressible pursuit of life.”

– Cadillac Repositioning Statement 


Not Your Grandfather’s Cadillac 

The key to Ellinghaus’ success repositioning Cadillac was authenticity. Before him, the company made several unsuccessful attempts at repositioning itself. For example, best known for enormous, comfortable luxury vehicles, Cadillac once tried to be sporty and high-tech. Consumers saw through it right away, because that’s just not Cadillac.  

Cadillac is bold and American, with its art deco styling, entrepreneurial history, and powerful engines. Its new positioning sought to attract a new audience, but authentically.  

The repositioning retains the same core brand identity, summated in three key statements: Bold Passion (breakthrough originality), Optimism (the spirit of America), and Sophistication (the quest for the exceptional). Its cars are still luxurious, powerful, and audacious in design, only they aren’t just for your grandfather anymore. Cadillac’s new position and marketing advances all its differentiating attributes, but in a manner that’s more compelling to younger audiences. 

Want proof of its effectiveness? In 2016, once the repositioning had been fully rolled out, Cadillac reported their best sales figures since 1986. Best of all, by attracting a younger generation, they have potentially secured loyalty to the Cadillac brand for years to come. 


Think Long Term 

Repositioning isn’t as easy as changing a positioning statement. Even with successful marketing, repositioning a company can take years for it to affix in consumer’s minds. The need for a long-term strategy that a company commits to without deviating from is paramount.  

At WJ, we’ve got the Strategists and Creatives to help map out a highway to success. With us at your side, we might just make you the Cadillac of your industry. 


Feel free to reach out.