Cadillac Targets Women With Fashion-Forward Image

Jan 17, 2014
Originally published on January 17, 2014 3:54 pm

This week at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, the luxury brand Cadillac debuted a new crest. According to Cadillac officials, the new, streamlined crest “mirrors the evolution” of the brand.

That’s not the only thing that’s changing for Cadillac. The 111-year-old luxury brand wants to reach out to an untapped demographic: women.

Melody Lee, director of brand and reputation strategy for Cadillac, joins Here & Now’s Robin Young to explain.


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OK. Let's talk cars. This week, at the Detroit Auto Show, Cadillac debuted a new crest. Gone is its trademark wreath and its place just the shield but with bigger, bolder colors. Now, the 111-year-old luxury carmaker says it wants to be a little edgier. And that's not the only thing changing. The brand is pushing to woe new customers who might not be your typical Caddy driver. We're talking about women here.

So in 2012, Cadillac turns to Melody Lee. She's director of a brand and reputation strategy at Cadillac, as you - a role that's unique now at General Motors. Melody Lee joins from Detroit. And, Melody, first of all, what made Cadillac create your position?

MELODY LEE: Well, you know, Cadillac has a long history. It's been around for 111 years. And for a long time, all the way up to the 1970s, it was known as the pinnacle of success. I mean, if you did well in a job or you succeeded in life, the reward was a Cadillac. And then from about the mid-'70s on, we started to lose our way a little bit as a brand and became somewhat complacent. And so when Bob Ferguson, who is the head of Cadillac, the brand chief now, asked me to come on board, it was because I, at that point, had never even considered buying a Cadillac. And I'm being completely honest and that's because that is the exact reason he asked me.

CHAKRABARTI: So before we go into detail about exactly what you're doing now with Cadillac, I want to talk a little bit more about what you just said, that there's this perception of this classic American brand that, essentially, you're trying to fight against. And we thought that that perception was pretty well summed up by this song, which I'm sure you probably heard. It's by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. It's a song called "White Walls." And I want to hear a little bit of that.


MACKLEMORE AND RYAN LEWIS: (Singing) Old school like old English in that brown paper bag. I'm rolling in that same whip that my granddad had. Hello, haters. Damn, y'all mad. 30k on the Caddy, now how backpack rap is that?

HOLLIS: (Singing) I got that off-black Cadillac midnight drive. Got that gas pedal, leaned back, taking my time. I'm rollin'...

CHAKRABARTI: OK. So, Melody, on the one hand, it's cool that Macklemore brought Cadillac into one of its songs. But he's also saying that, I'm rolling in the same whip that my granddad had.

LEE: That's exactly right. On the one hand, we love that Cadillac is back in the pop culture vernacular again. But you're right. In the song, he talks about driving the same car as his granddad. But for him, it's a positive nostalgia and that's something that we want to capitalize on. We don't want to run from our past, but we also don't want to focus on it too much.

CHAKRABARTI: OK. So tell me more about why, in order to do that, you've decided to tap into the purchasing power of women.

LEE: Well, you know, a lot of statistics like to point out that women are now more involved in the automotive purchasing process than they ever have been. So at Cadillac, I think we've decided to focus on ways to really connect with women where they are. And I think that last part of the phrase is key.

CHAKRABARTI: So tapping to women who - where they are, especially women who maybe have their eye on luxury brands. In order to do that, for example, you really turned a lot to the fashion world. I mean, I see that you sold the new ELR coupe hybrid exclusively through Saks Fifth Avenue, through their catalogue. And you launched a video campaign called "Style Driven," which follows a fashion stylist around New York City as she dresses an actress for the famous Met gala. And we've got a clip of that.


ERIN WALSH: I mean, in terms of working in a city like New York - especially in New York, I can't get anything done without a car. I might be in the car with my computer prepping for another job while we're en route to the next one. You're moving between your working space between the photo studio, between the showrooms, reserving dates, reserving looks, making selections, for me...

CHAKRABARTI: So, Melody, what exactly are you trying to do with this kind of advertising?

LEE: Well, I think that much less than in just pandering, I would say, to women, it's more about tying the story of the beauty and the art behind our vehicles to the same kind of design and eye for art that goes into fashion. I saw this in Forbes.

And car purchasing is number one or number two on women's list of most hated things to do. And so, let's make it easy on them. Let's go to where they are and just build awareness by doing things like being with Saks Fifth Avenue where they might already be doing their Christmas shopping.

CHAKRABARTI: But I do wonder - and this is a challenge for any sort of legacy or heritage brand. And as you mentioned, there's a 111-year history we're talking about with Cadillac that you also have a very loyal customer base, many of whom are affluent men who have certain expectations of what it means to be a Cadillac owner. How do you balance that very, very important base with the direction that you're trying to turn the brand?

LEE: Well, I think that a big mistake would be trying to be all things to all people. We do understand that we have a traditional base that we need to appeal to, that we need to retain. But at the same time, we have major global growth aspirations. And to do that, we've got to get to new audiences, like women, like millennials. We have to diversify.

CHAKRABARTI: When it comes to branding and marketing, that is an exercise in aspiration and selling a story and an ideal. But I feel like there's a particular truth when it comes to the automotive industry that, of course, the product still matters because people have very strong relationships with their cars. They're in them every day. They drive them. It's a physical thing. You know, we're talking about women in Cadillac. I mean, you guys make big cars, and many of them have a very male feel to them. So how deep do you want your branding change to go? I mean, are you talking to engineers, saying we can't really design the cars this way anymore?

LEE: Absolutely. It starts from the very beginning of product. As you said, for many people, the automobile is the second most expensive purchase they'll ever make in their lives after a home. So it's incredible amount of thought in detail is put into what the vehicle actually does in a person's everyday life.

CHAKRABARTI: Now, under most circumstances, I would not do this because what a person looks like and their physical stature has no bearing whatsoever on an interview. Forgive me if I do ask. I understand that you're 4-foot-11?

LEE: I am, yes.


CHAKRABARTI: And the only reason I'm asking is because I see that you've driven the 2015 Escalade.

LEE: That's right. I'm driving a 2015 Escalade right now. I think that is also really...

CHAKRABARTI: How do you reach the pedals?


LEE: In a normal Escalade, I would have trouble driving. But what our engineers have done is taken the women into account and made adjustable pedals. So now we have pedals, with a push of a button, that come up to your height and are adjustable to use. So at 4-foot-11 and sub hundred pounds, I can drive an Escalade, and I am pretty sure any other woman can if I can.

CHAKRABARTI: Macklemore is jealous hearing this.


CHAKRABARTI: Well, Melody Lee is the director of brand and reputation strategy for Cadillac. She's been given the task, amongst other things, with making the 111-year-old luxury brand more appealing to women. Melody Lee, it's been a real pleasure to speak with you. Thank you so much.

LEE: Thank you, Meghna.

CHAKRABARTI: You're listening to HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.