This isn’t normally how stories form in the world of automotive media. Last month, Cadillac brand manager Melody Lee was interviewed by Fortune magazine. The 33-year old said some things that could be troubling for long time Cadillac customers, such as “I don’t buy products, I buy brands,” and other statements which reveal her mindset and vision for the company.
One freelance automotive journalist shared the article on Facebook, noting that if a person like Lee is who Cadillac has at the helm, they are in “big trouble.” Then, other staffers from Motor Trend, Jalopnik, Car & Driver and more chimed in with their differing opinions on Lee and her work. The main issue most have with her statements is they appear to focus on the brand and its image, and disregard the fact that you need good cars in order to be a successful luxury brand.
We don’t think Lee was ignoring the fact that good products are the best way to win customers. Her job is to change the way people see the brand, to make it “cool” again, in her words. Her job would be pretty easy if every day she showed up to work, said “well the cars are great, so I guess my job is done,” and went home.
Yahoo! Autos, who originally recapped all the Cadillac Facebook banter, points out many are afraid to see GM’s marketing go the way of Robert Zarella again. He took over General Motors’ marketing in 1994 and pushed out catchy ads which didn’t focus on the performance or quality of the cars, but simply on persuading consumers to buy them. As you can imagine, it didn’t work.
Cadillac president Johan de Nysschen eventually showed up to the online exchange to defend his company, and his brand manager Lee.
“Guys, let me worry about ensuring we have the best damn products in the biz. And let my marketers worry about shaping the coolest brand in town. Making awesome cars is the easy part, and we’re on it. Don’t take everything so seriously, will ya [sic]?”
Our thoughts, exactly, Johan. Just like some of those who chimed in on the Great Facebook Cadillac Argument of 2014, we think Cadillac can only benefit from bringing in someone who has never experienced or been influenced by GM’s corporate culture. Melody said she’s often the only woman in a meeting full of older men in suits, who probably belong to the same demographic of all the people criticising her online.
Like de Nysschen said: let the engineers make great products and let the marketing team make the brand cool however they deem necessary. GM can only benefit from bringing in young talent like Lee, and Cadillac has plans to hire about 200 more employees who are probably very similar to her. Give them a chance to apply their knowledge and they may just surprise you. If they don’t, you can always complain about it on the internet.