Cadillac’s Escala concept car has some consumers looking to buy it

on Jun10

DETROIT — Cadillac’s TV ad campaign this year featuring the sweeping Escala concept was meant to be a forward-looking exercise that relayed the brand’s design aspirations to the world.

But some consumers who saw the commercials, which debuted during the Oscars in February, didn’t quite grasp the “forward-looking” part. They’ve been heading to Cadillac showrooms to inquire about the car, only to find out that it’s not for sale, and never will be.

That’s a risk Cadillac was willing to take as it tries to rebuild the luxury brand’s cachet around a new design language that’s less square and more captivating.

Ellinghaus: Lures new customers

Uwe Ellinghaus, the brand’s chief marketing officer, says Cadillac is serious about blending the Escala’s design cues into its future lineup, so there’s nothing wrong with pitching it to TV audiences as a creative springboard.

“Had it been just another concept vehicle which is glorious, but not with a serious intent to produce something similar in the future, I wouldn’t have done it,” Ellinghaus told Automotive News.

Luckily for Cadillac, not all of these Escala fans are leaving dealerships disappointed. Some are opting for Cadillac’s latest take on luxury, the CT6 sedan, as a substitute.

“Had it been just another concept vehicle which is glorious, but not with a serious 
intent to produce something similar in the future, I wouldn’t have done it.”

Uwe Ellinghaus
Chief marketing officer for Cadillac, on the Escala ads

Building traffic

Ellinghaus said dealers were skeptical when they heard the Escala, which was unveiled at the Pebble Beach, Calif., luxury-car showcase last August, was getting a prime TV spot.

But he credits the campaign with luring new potential customers into showrooms who may not have paid attention to the Cadillac lineup otherwise. He sees this as a strong signal that TV advertising is still an effective way to get consumers into stores.

The ad includes an on-screen disclaimer identifying the Escala as a concept that will “inspire the next generation of Cadillacs.”

On the digital side, Cadillac created a​ microsite that tells the Escala’s story.

The brand provides pathways on the Escala page for people to sign up for updates about its current vehicles. Ellinghaus hopes that consumers initially searching for the Escala end up spending time on Cadillac’s homepage to learn about its products, configure a vehicle and ask for a test drive.

Ellinghaus said he was pleased to see that viewers have been searching for the Escala online, even though its name only flashed briefly in the ad.

“This was fully sufficient to create a lot of search traffic for the name ‘Escala’ in Google and other search engines,” he said. “It’s all the more amazing that Escala is not an easy word to remember.”

Cadillac’s Johan de Nysschen introduced the Escala concept in Pebble Beach, Calif., last summer. Photo credit: DAVID UNDERCOFFLER

Mixed reviews

Will Churchill, chairman of Cadillac’s National Dealer Council, said he had no problem with Cadillac using the Escala for an ad push. The concept, he said, gives the automaker “greater brand relevance.”

“It’s a supersexy car, so it obviously drives conversations around Cadillac,” said Churchill, dealer principal at Frank Kent Cadillac in Fort Worth, Texas.

“We’ve had customers showing up looking for the vehicle, which is driving traffic. We tell them it’s a concept, so it gives them an idea of where Cadillac is headed.

“In an era where we have to break through the clutter and start a conversation,” Churchill added, “I think the car does the perfect job.”

Ad industry veteran Jim Sanfilippo, who led ad agencies for Hyundai and Ford, says he’s a fan of the Escala spot, but he isn’t sure that Cadillac’s take on it is a sign of strength.

“If you’re having to borrow interest from your own concept cars to attract folks to your showroom to buy a vehicle that doesn’t exist,” he said, “I think it’s a pretty weak place to stand.

“I think the standards that Cadillac aspires to are a bit higher than that, or should be.”

So what should Cadillac do? Easy, says Sanfilippo: Build the Escala.

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