Cadillac's CMO on shifting brand strategy to address supply chain, cookie challenges

Cadillac's CMO on shifting brand strategy to address supply chain, cookie challenges

NEW YORK — Among the many industries experiencing sharp supply chain pressures, automotive has been one of the hardest hit, with shortages of materials ranging from crucial semiconductors to rubber. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the crisis has impacted holiday marketing plans, but Cadillac is eyeing the situation as a moment to shift strategy rather than peel back, CMO Melissa Grady said during a panel at Advertising Week New York on Monday.

"On the retail side, our inventory is really low again, so we are looking at where we have inventory and trying to advertise there. But it's much scaled back compared to where we've been," Grady said during the talk that was moderated by Insider and also featured Vox Chief Revenue Officer Ryan Pauley. "What we haven't stopped is the strategic investment."

Crucial to the brand's plans is a bigger push behind the Lyriq, its first electric vehicle (EV), which is expected to hit dealerships in the first quarter of 2022. The Lyriq is part of an ambitious move into electric offerings that parent company General Motors unveiled at the start of the year with a corporate rebrand and commitment to invest $27 billion in EV products through 2025.

Rather than center holiday messages on deals for new cars — a typical tactic deployed during the key sales period — Grady suggested Cadillac will instead direct more energy toward acquainting customers with a fresh image for the luxury automaker embodied by the Lyriq. The executive also pointed out that preorders for the SUV sold out within minutes of going live last month, indicating there will be more opportunities to capitalize on demand once short-term manufacturing challenges are resolved.

"That advertising, we're going to keep [it] going because people need to understand what that vehicle is and what the technologies are," Grady said of the Lyriq before posing a more philosophical question: "What does one of the more traditional manufacturers look like as an EV brand?"

Gear shift

Beyond putting a brighter spotlight on the Lyriq, Cadillac is also changing how and where it markets to consumers. Even pre-pandemic, the brand was investing more in digital channels that helped it stay nimble once operations hit roadblocks related to the health crisis, according to Grady.

The CMO pointed to Cadillac Live, a virtual showroom experience that provides one-on-one meetings with agents, as an example of one of the bets that has paid off as customers stay cooped up at home. The platform started a larger expansion in the U.S. in early March of 2020, right before COVID-19 shuttered in-person venues en masse.

Addressable media and e-commerce were two other areas Cadillac ramped up to help steel it for COVID-19-related disruptions.

"We were already audience-first with our advertising," Grady said. "We buy heavily in addressable or heavily in digital, and then we use linear more to fill in and [for] those brand integration moments."

"The biggest thing that keeps me up at night and the biggest complexity that we have is: How do we keep Cadillac pure within all of these experiences as they're being built across brands?"


Melissa Grady

Chief marketing officer, Cadillac

During the discussion, Grady was also asked about her stance on the upfronts, an annual period where marketers lock in TV advertising commitments for the months ahead. More companies have pushed back against the current format, demanding greater flexibility — COVID-19 tanked many live viewing occasions brands pay top dollar for, while cord-cutting continues to accelerate — and brokering direct deals with networks. Last year, the Cadillac marketer suggested the pandemic served as a point to reassess how the upfronts function, a sentiment she echoed again on the panel Monday.

"You know, as you guys were thinking about the pandemic, there were three words that we really kind of homed in on: fast, flexible and agile," Grady said. "When you look at that, the upfronts [are] not those things, right?"

However, Grady affirmed that Cadillac still participates in the upfronts and continues to view linear media as an "inspiration point" to set up big brand stories that will ultimately extend elsewhere. But there was no question that the balance of Cadillac's media investments has started to shift as the company looks to better target potential customers.

"We find our audience, and we like to show up differently," Grady said. "We're able to negotiate some of those deals in the upfronts, but a lot of that now has better rates on things like addressable [media]."

Building audiences

Grady, who joined Cadillac in 2019 following prior roles that revolved around analytics and e-commerce, also espoused how the automaker is thinking differently about data as the category contends with the looming deprecation of third-party cookies. It's an area where marketers could face an uphill battle as consumers grow more guarded over their personal information.

"We're not trying to go out and almost create our own media file," Grady said, noting that Cadillac is instead trying to augment interactions. "We have to start to operate in a way of: What is this negotiation of your information versus us just trying to collect it."

Cadillac has been working closely with agency partner Dentsu — which helped develop Cadillac Live — to devise new playbooks, including by drawing on U.S. household data to build regression models that help to gauge who might be in the market for one of the brand's vehicles.

"Because it's public registration data, we actually were able to see these people are at least 19 times more likely to own a Cadillac than anything else," Grady said. "Now we're working on how we pull that into our ecosystem so that we recognize those people when they come to our website, so that we know who our owners are and when we're suppressing them or when we're targeting them."

Cadillac is also adopting a more contextual focus in terms of executing digital campaigns. Grady illustrated how the brand would try to show up differently advertising across various Vox verticals, for instance.

"If there's something on Eater, we're going to be focusing on culinary. If it's something on The Verge, we're going to be talking about the technology," Grady said. "We don't just want to be running banner ads to somebody we're interested in."

Vox debuted its own first-party data platform, called Forte, toward the end of 2019, before Google announced plans to kill off third-party cookies. The publisher has seen more than 300 brands opt in to the platform since launch, as well as a bump in revenue, per Pauley, though he declined to share specific figures.

"The performance is there, it's cheaper than third-party data and a more effective way to get a targeted audience," Pauley said.

Even with such promising developments on the data-driven marketing front, Grady still has her share of anxieties amid a tumultuous period for CMOs at large companies that manage multiple brands.

"The biggest thing that keeps me up at night and the biggest complexity that we have is: How do we keep Cadillac pure within all of these experiences as they're being built across brands?" Grady said. "How do we make sure that Cadillac comes through, that you've seen the brand as you're interacting with it? It's a very complex ecosystem."