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Cadillac’s Ad Account Under Review

Long-time Chevy agency Campbell-Ewald seen as a top contender.

by on Mar.13, 2013

A scene from the Cadillac Versus the World ad campaign produced by Fallon Worldwide.

The game of musical chairs among General Motors’ ad agencies is apparently going to continue, the Detroit maker confirming it has put the account for its flagship brand Cadillac up for review.

GM marketing has been enmeshed in turmoil in recent years as the maker has struggled to come up with the right formula to promote the downsized mix of brands that emerged following the carmaker’s 2009 bankruptcy. The situation has been compounded by a series of management shake-ups that included the hiring and subsequent firing of “change agent” Joel Ewanick.

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The decision to consider the marketing options for Cadillac comes as the maker begins to gain momentum with a new line of products, and as it begins to push beyond its traditional U.S. market boundaries. It could be a severe setback for Caddy’s current agency of record, Minneapolis-based Fallon Worldwide. But it may bring redemption for one-time GM advertising powerhouse Campbell-Ewald.

Automakers rarely put advertising accounts up for review unless they are seriously contemplating bringing in a new agency to handle the creative messaging. Last summer, Fallon and Cadillac unleashed an expensive advertising campaign featuring the new Cadillac ATS being driven aggressively in places such as Patagonia, a remote location in China, and in North Africa.

The spots, dubbed “ATS vs the World,” received a high-profile launch during the 2012 Summer Olympics, generating a wide mix of responses, from high praise to sharp criticism, from ad industry watchers.

Fallon should not be surprised if it were to lose the Caddy account considering the way GM has churned and burned through agencies in recent year. Among the victims was long-time Chevrolet media partner Campbell-Ewald. It was dismissed after GM hired on former Hyundai marketing czar Joel Ewanick in May 2010, specifically to restructure the companies often staid and somnambulant advertising efforts.  Ewanick may have done too good a job at goring sacred cows, finding himself without a job last July.

Since then, GM has continued trying to fine-tune its message – and the team responsible for marketing. It just announced the hiring of Tim Mahoney, formerly of Subaru and Volkwagen, who will become Chevrolet’s global marketing czar, effective April 1.

That follows the unexpected appointment of former AT&T executive Robert Ferguson to serve as Cadillac’s global marketing boss.  “The Cadillac brand will hit a higher gear under his watch,” said GM CEO Dan Akerson, who surprised observers in both the automotive and advertising communities by bringing in Ferguson who had not handled marketing for a car brand before.

GM officials declined to comment on whether it’s time to shift Cadillac advertising to another agency. But those who follow the business say it was a telling sign that Campbell-Ewald, which has lost a number of key accounts lately, unexpectedly announced it was moving its principal offices from the Detroit suburbs to downtown Detroit, essentially around the corner from GM’s Renaissance Center headquarters.

Cambell-Ewald handled Chevrolet’s advertising for more than seven decades before being replaced by a consortium that has set up a new agency in Detroit to handle the creative for the Chevrolet account.

If Fallon loses the Cadillac account it would come even as the luxury brand begins building momentum with the launches of both the ATS and the also-new XTS sedans. U.S. sales have increased 32% year-over-year through February. At the same time, the luxury marque has begun producing its first products in China, now the world’s second-largest luxury car market.

“The momentum is fueling Cadillac’s global expansion plan and driving us to continually enhance our marketing efforts,” GM said in a statement. “As a result, Cadillac is conducting an advertising agency review over the coming weeks. Fallon Worldwide remains our current advertising agency of record; no change has taken place. Fallon will be invited to participate in this review process along with other agencies. We are not disclosing the other participating agencies nor details.”

Paul A. Eisenstein contributed to this report.

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