A Cadillac on Two Wheels?

July 27, 2005

îI knew with the Cadillac name it would be halfway decent.î Thatís got to be music to a luxury brand managerís ear, huh?

Cadillac has licensed its hallowed brand to a bicycle manufacturer. The goal, it seems, is to create "unexpected brand contacts" to "break through preconceptions" of the Cadillac brand. A commendable (if clichÈd) approach. But, in the execution, Cadillac succeeds in blowing away virtually all preconceptions, good or bad.

The first, and really only, question is why. Thereís not a whole lot of money here for Cadillac. Bicycles certainly do not reinforce or advance the brandís promises of luxury or performance. So where is the benefit to the Cadillac brand?

Certainly other automotive brands have been extended in interesting ways, even to bicycles. Hummer has been licensed to a line of mountain bikes that play off of the rugged nature of the brand. A line of Jeep baby strollers has leveraged similar qualities into the baby gear space. In fact, a Cadillac stroller or car seat probably makes more sense than a Cadillac bicycle. Luxury is a tough thing to pull off in a bike.

Cadillac could have looked to other tactics to achieve their "break through" goals. Volkswagen developed a successful promotional alliance with Trek bicycles a few years back ñ and Cadillac certainly could have emulated that if they really felt a bicycle tie-in was important. Car brands have also had some success teaming with complimentary brands that speak to the same demographic, like the Eddie Bauer Ford Explorer. But putting your brand on a product that has little hope of meeting the expectations you have created in the marketplace is simply a shortsighted and foolhardy approach.

There is a silver lining here for Cadillac. If the market reacts like I do, this whole thing will quickly fade away and little brand damage will be done. Itís the opportunity cost that may be more significant, as the now revitalized Cadillac brand will have misdirected its energies (and undermined its potential) in using licensing as a tool to communicate its story.

- Jonathan Paisner jpaisner@corebrand.com

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