How Cadillac irked viewers with its Oscars ad

Cadillac appears to be taking a page from Oscar Wilde, aiming to provoke audiences into talking about the stodgy car brand at any cost.

The General Motors (GM) brand is probably known best to younger consumers as the car in which their grandparents tooled around town, plush boats that epitomized stylish luxury back in the 1960s and 1970s.

But now, the brand is striking out in a new direction, with an ad that appeals to unapologetic consumerism and the American work ethic, while also poking fun at Europeans for taking vacations during the entire month of August. The ad stars actor Neal McDonough of "Band of Brothers" strolling about a luxurious house, questioning why Americans work so hard.

"Because we're crazy, driven hardworking believers, that's why," McDonough says. "Those other countries think we're nuts. Whatever."

The upshot? Americans work hard so they can buy expensive things like the Cadillac ELR, he notes.

Of course, one reason Americans work so hard is that many can't afford to take time off. Asked in a recent survey if they'd work for one less hour per day in exchange for a corresponding pay cut, about half said they couldn't afford it.

While the ad is sleek and stylish, it's also creating a strong backlash. Among the criticisms is that the spot reinforces negative stereotypes of the top 1 percent of U.S. earners, while also adding a heaping dose of xenophobia.While it first appeared in the opening ceremony of the Sochi Olympics, it also aired twice on ABC's telecast of the Academy Awards on Sunday, sparking new dialogue about the spot.

But for Cadillac, the advertisement, while polarizing, is likely achieving just what the brand hoped: Getting people talking again. As for negative perceptions of the 1 percent, it's fair to say that the people who hold those ideas (some of the remaining 99 percent) aren't likely to be in the market for a $75,000 electric car.

"Those who hate this ad were never going to buy a Cadillac, anyway," wrote Mary Kubitskey, national advertising manager for GMC Division of GM, on Facebook, according to Deadline Detroit. "What's more American than working hard and owning stuff? I love the ballsy swagger for Cadillac."

Still, Cadillac is disavowing that the commercial is aimed at America's ultra-rich. The brand's advertising director Craig Bierley telling Advertising Age that the commercial is targeting customers with incomes of $200,000. That's about four times as much as the median U.S. household income of $53,046, but still below the $370,000 required to crack the top 1 percent.

The potential Caddy buyer is someone with a "little bit of grit under their fingernails," Bierley told the publication. "These are people who haven't been given anything. Every part of success they've achieved has been earned through hard work and hustle."

  • Aimee Picchi

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