Ad Report Card: Cadillac's rock of ages.

Commentary about business and finance.
April 15 2002 12:12 PM

Ad Report Card: Cadillac's Rock of Ages

The name Cadillac used to be synonymous with a certain level of luxury and quality—it was the Cadillac of brands, to use a phrase that doesn't really work anymore. More recently the name has had a different connotation: faded glory, age, and out-of-dateness. What to do? The brand's current ad campaign (it kicked off during the Super Bowl) turns to the commercial soundtrack trend, marrying images of a revamped Cadillac models to the sounds of … Led Zeppelin. You can see the spot that seems to be on the air most frequently at the car-maker's site.

Ad still

The ad: It's a traffic jam, cars stuck on a city street, horns bleating. A handsome yuppie is stuck in it, until he points his vintage Caddy down a side street and simply leaves it all behind. Suddenly he's on the open highway, cutting through the desert, presumably driving as fast as he wants to, top down. There's a familiar crashing of drums and the music kicks in: Led Zeppelin's "Rock and Roll." "Been a long time …" etc., goes the Robert Plant warble, over the Jimmy Page riff, that you've heard a million times. Then, in the rearview mirror: another car. It's the new Cadillac CTS. The music drops out and an announcer says, "A legend … reborn." The music cranks up again and the new CTS blows past the Zep-loving yuppie. "Cadillac CTS," the announcer says, sounding vaguely smug. "Break through."


Rock solid or retread? We're all familiar with the onslaught of cool, edgy music in advertising. This campaign is not part of that onslaught. Why? Because Led Zeppelin's music is not edgy or cool. It's "classic," as in classic rock. And "classic rock," of course, is a radio-category euphemism designed to put the best possible spin on a format that caters to the nostalgia of its presumed listeners. For obvious reasons, the label "classic rock" sounds better than "oldies."

This is a problem, because presumably what Cadillac wants to do is shed its yesterday's-news image and re-emerge as a younger, fresher, more current version of itself. But are those the qualities that strains of "classic" Zep spark in your mind? I suppose the answer depends on who the listener is, and perhaps there's a constituency that sees this ad and thinks: "You know, I used to think Cadillacs were out-of-date, but now I can see that they're as today as Led Zeppelin." But I suspect there's another constituency that sees Plant and Page as prime examples of poorly aging rock peacocks, coasting on the fumes of achievements from a quarter-century ago: Not only are they faintly embarrassing dinosaurs, but they have no sense of humor about it. (The specter of aging poorly, incidentally, isn't helped when you consider how much better the old Caddy in this ad looks than the new one.) In any case, it's been a long time, to borrow a phrase, since Robert Plant was anyone's stand-in for the idea of youthfulness. 

Now, just so nobody takes this the wrong way, I want to be clear that I don't have a problem with Led Zeppelin. If I'm flipping around the car-radio dial and a Zeppelin song comes up on some oldies (um, classic rock) station, there's a reasonable chance I'll pause and hear it out. If I'm in the mood for that sort of thing, I'd probably rather hear Aerosmith's "Sweet Emotion," or Foghat's "Slow Ride," but "Kashmir" can be just fine, too. There's something pleasantly familiar about a Led Zeppelin song that I know by heart without ever having bought one of the band's records. It's safe, it's predictable, it's the same old thing it's always been, for as long as I can remember. Actually, I guess you could say Led Zeppelin is the Cadillac of classic rock bands.

Rob Walker is a columnist for Yahoo Tech, a contributor to Design Observer and the New York Times, and the author of Buying In.



The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

Does Your Child Have Sluggish Cognitive Tempo? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

Mitt Romney May Be Weighing a 2016 Run. That Would Be a Big Mistake.

Amazing Photos From Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.


See Me

Transparent is the fall’s only great new show.


Lena Dunham, the Book

More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.

What a Juicy New Book About Diane Sawyer and Katie Couric Fails to Tell Us About the TV News Business

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.

  News & Politics
Damned Spot
Sept. 30 2014 9:00 AM Now Stare. Don’t Stop. The perfect political wife’s loving gaze in campaign ads.
Sept. 30 2014 10:44 AM Bull---- Market America is overlooking a plentiful renewable resource: animal manure.
Atlas Obscura
Sept. 30 2014 10:10 AM A Lovable Murderer and Heroic Villain: The Story of Australia's Most Iconic Outlaw
  Double X
Sept. 29 2014 11:43 PM Lena Dunham, the Book More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 29 2014 8:45 AM Slate Isn’t Too Liberal. But… What readers said about the magazine’s bias and balance.
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 10:48 AM One of Last Year’s Best Animated Shorts Is Finally Online for Free
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:36 AM Almost Humane What sci-fi can teach us about our treatment of prisoners of war.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 30 2014 7:30 AM What Lurks Beneath The Methane Lakes of Titan?
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.