Cadillac’s new ‘poolside’ ad is hard to swallow. It’s the one in which an assertive, confident master of the house surveys his domain and reminds us why Americans are so great. I’m pretty sure this is one of those ads that will reflect the worst of America’s culture when we look back on it in 50 years, and not just to the liberal idealist.
Regardless of whether the ad makes you feel proud or ugly, from a marketing perspective, I think they missed a terrific cross-promotional opportunity. To truly celebrate our culture, they should have leveraged another uniquely American campaign: Viagra.
First, American culture is characterized by traits like dominance, authority, power, and success. Geert Hofstede, the Dutch psychologist, professor, and former IBMer best known for his studies of national culture, describes collective US society as having a unique combination of high masculine energy and one of the most individualistic drives in the world. (Check out this tool for comparing the attributes of different countries at The Hofstede Centre website: http://geert-hofstede.com/countries.html) And the Cadillac brand, while not always relevant, exemplifies power and success.
Second, Americans are immersed in the narrative of the individual: think John Wayne and the Marlboro Man. (Note: I’d like to cite a more contemporary equivalent but that might require a separate post just to argue the merits. Who replaces John Wayne: Paul Newman? Harrison Ford? Hugh Jackman?) Internal strength and fortitude are lauded, and we admire the person who pulls himself up by his own “bootstraps,” invents his own luck, and takes care of business without bothering the rest of us. That is the American story. And that’s Viagra— because, while competitive products emphasize the relationship, Viagra is all about the man.
Third: We tend to favor short-term versus long-term gratification: think the stock market and our tendency to reward 15 seconds of fame to anyone loud, crazy, or rich enough to ask for it. We want it when we want it, which usually means now. And that consumer demand for now is in perfect alignment with premium cars and miracle drugs.
The Cadillac ad embraces all of these cultural traits, which is what makes it feel so stereotypically American. It glorifies our can do attitude and the status that comes from success. It celebrates our pugnaciousness and emphasizes our need to be on top. Which brings me to my point.
Until now, I thought one of the most illustrative examples of American culture in advertising was ‘The Age of Taking Action’ ad for Viagra. After all, what could be more emblematic of our masculine individualism than a man and his truck, solo, out on the rugged land, the picture of stoicism as he solves his own problems?
But today, I am lamenting that Cadillac and Viagra didn’t join forces to create an uber-campaign. Because the only thing missing from actor Neal McDonough’s macho assessment of what’s important in life is a shot of him swallowing a little blue pill before he gets into his elite electric car with a bit of his own electricity. Wink. What a package that would have been.