brand storytelling, politics and culture — February 18, 2014 at 3:21 pm

Is Cadillac Committing Class Warfare?


When I first viewed this TV spot for the Cadillac 2014 ELR, I couldn’t tell if it was serious or satirical.

The basic pitch is common enough: you’ve worked hard and deserve your rewards.

But it’s presented by a smug 1-percenter whose performance is so over-the-top you might think you’re watching a sketch from Saturday Night Live.

Moreover, the spot takes a moralistic tone that is new and, in my view, unsettling.

Cadillac Presents Us With An Enemy

Rather than simply extolling the virtues of an industrious life, Cadillac contrasts America’s culture of hard work with an enemy, a foreign culture whose inhabitants “stroll home” after a day at the office, “stop by the cafe” and take off the entire month of August.

I assume Cadillac is referring to Europeans, in particular the French. The narrator wraps up his pitch, after all, with a snarky “n’est pas?”

But it’s not just that these imaginary slackers are lazy; it’s that they don’t believe.

An Enemy of Non-Believers

Americans, in contrast, are “crazy-driven hardworking believers.” And it’s this belief, we are told, that led to the Wright Brothers, Bill Gates, Les Paul and the moon landing.

Let’s put aside for a moment those indolent European non-believers like Einstein and Madame Curie, not to mention Werner van Braun, the ex-Nazi who headed our space program in the 60s. We are supposed to understand that Americans, due to our “crazy driven” culture, are singularly blessed to make important contributions to society.

But that’s just garden-variety jingoism, a little arch for a spot wrapping itself in the flag, but not the most interesting thing going on here.

An Enemy Of Fellow Americans

What is remarkable is the subtext. The idea of non-believers refers not only to foreigners across the Atlantic. It can also be seen as a stand-in for Americans who, from Cadillac’s point-of-view, hold the wrong values. Call them the 99%, the 47%, whatever percent you like.

Check out many of the comments the spot has garnered on YouTube and you’ll see what I mean.

The key here is that Cadillac is presenting us with a stark Manichean view of society: there are believers who work hard and enjoy the spoils; and there are non-believers who take it easy and deserve their economic hardship and lowly status.

Class Warfare As Commodity

Cadillac is not making a distinction between America and Europe. It is making a distinction between one group of Americans and another.

Celebrating success has always been a staple of marketing communications, but holding the less successful in contempt, as this spot clearly does, is a disturbing innovation.

This is the commodification of class warfare, and it is a noteworthy moment in the history of advertising and American commerce.

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