Blog: Dave LeggettWord for the day

Dave Leggett | 2 September 2004

I've a couple of bounce-backs in the e-mail inbox today that indicate yesterday's Editor's Weekly Highlights newsletter failed the blanket morality test imposed by some corporate spam filters - 'inappropriate language' one of them said. Looking through the below text from the opening prologue section, I guess it must be the use of the word 'turd' (although 'bog' - Brit slang for toilet - is in there also). That's the problem with blanket solutions - like fishermens' driftnets, some stuff gets caught that wasn't really the intention. I do try to avoid vernacular language that falls foul of spam filters but sometimes it's hard and they're set too soft in my opinion. Thank goodness I didn't say 'piece of shit' - an outraged server somewhere may have exploded. Instead of turd, maybe I should have said 'solid faecal deposit, brown in colour'..

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"Brand values don’t change overnight do they? It took, for example, Volkswagen a long time to change western European consumers’ perceptions of the Skoda brand. Back in the ‘80s and first half of the ‘90s, Skoda was synonymous with cheap but fundamentally inferior products from some dismal and grey place behind the Iron Curtain.

VW eventually successfully repositioned Skoda as a reformed and value-driven member of the Volkswagen Group. But the process took around a decade and wasn’t really confirmed until Skoda cars were clearly modern designs and put onto generic VW platforms (a policy that, arguably, went too far as the perception grew that Skodas were in fact cheap VWs, with resultant market substitution taking place). If it hadn’t been for VW, Skodas would probably be as rare on west European roads now as Russian Ladas (forced to exit many markets due to dirty engines when emissions standards were tightened in the early 1990s).

And I recall that BMW tried unsuccessfully when it was in charge of Rover to give at best bog-standard Rover cars a premium image, looking at things like dealer signage, premium pricing, Teutonic associations and so on – it was disastrous; you can’t ignore product (a polished turd may glisten but it is still, at heart, a turd). There are plenty of other examples of makers attempting to fundamentally shift a brand’s image, but my point is this:  it’s hard work and it takes time.

GM has for some time harboured ambitions to turn Cadillac into a global luxury brand and it may eventually succeed, but it ain’t going to be easy. In Europe, it looks especially hard work. To many Europeans the Cadillac name suggests extravagance, something vast and probably extremely energy inefficient. It’s Americana, but not in a very good way – at least in a European context. Automotive obesity.

Cadillac these days has good and contemporary looking designs, but the product is not really the point here. Tell your colleague in the European heartland boardroom that you have a Cadillac rather than BMW/Benz/Audi and he probably won’t know quite how to take it. He may think it’s an eccentric choice. Or he may wonder about your judgement in purchasing a pink barge with tailfins and white-walled tyres. Buyers at this end of the market tend to be pretty conservative. Deeply ingrained perceptions take time to wear down.

Eventually, maybe your colleague’s first thought will be to admire your individuality and perhaps he will respect your desire to be different. Maybe his instant image of the product will be sharply contemporary rather than 1950s-led. One thing Cadillac has in its favour in Europe, unlike Skoda back in the 1980s, is that it is starting with a more or less clean slate in terms of product. Despite occasional efforts to push the Seville in recent years, sales have been minuscule, so the European car parc doesn’t have many Cadillacs in it. But the task ahead still won’t be easy."

Dare to be different with a Caddy


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