Cadillac Nears Decision in Creative Review

Automaker's ad director Craig Bierley dishes on process

Earlier this year, Cadillac announced a review shortly after news reports leaked that the GM brand planned to move its creative account, sans pitch, to Campbell Ewald. 

Last week, more than a dozen top Cadillac executives heard presentations from the four agency teams pitching for lead creative duties on the automaker's $250 million U.S. account. Interpublic Group’s bid consists of Campbell Ewald, Hill Holliday, and Lowe. Omnicom put forward DDB. Publicis Groupe offered a mix of executives from Digitas and Publicis. The incumbent, Publicis Groupe-owned Fallon, also defended.

Adweek sat down with longtime GM exec and newly appointed Cadillac advertising director Craig Bierley to chat about what he saw, where the review is headed, and whether it has really been a fair fight.

ADWEEK: What’d you think of the presentations?

CRAIG BIERLEY: Four world-class groups of people came in. They spent a lot of time and energy thinking about our brand. They all had great ideas. They all delivered really solid, solid work. Some were better than others. There's parts of each team we like better than other parts of each team. Strategy over here might work better with this creative but you don't get to do that [laughs]. So you have to find the best group of people that you think will work together.

Are you going to narrow to a field of two final contenders?

No. At this point, we've got to get down the road. So where we need to ask follow-up questions, we're asking follow-up questions right now. Where we don't, we're not. Our goal is to have an agency selected by the middle of June. 

Are you going to be testing any of the ideas with consumers before you make a decision?

They had done some of that. But no. Here’s the thing: All four of them can do good work. Yes it's about evaluating the work that's in front of you, but the work is a process. None of them we're going to say like, "Oh!" [Claps] Let's go make that." It's who do you think can get you there. Who's got it. Where's your chemistry.

Advertising is iterative. It’s “There's parts of that that work, and maybe that doesn't work, and let's try again.” And then you refine it with consumers. The reason why you do research is to refine the message. Not to make your decisions for you.

You worked closely with Leo Burnett on Buick. Why aren’t they participating?

I love the guys at Leo Burnett. I thought we did great work on Buick. I would love, in some respects, to continue to work with them. Leo Burnett has conflicts globally. Part of the spec on this was to help us think through how we do this thing globally. Additionally, the Detroit Leo Burnett office has Buick, GMC and Chevy Silverado.

[Also,] my boss, Bob Ferguson, the head of global Cadillac, went to Maurice [Lévy, CEO of Publicis Groupe] and said, “We're going to put this up for bid. We understand Fallon wants to participate, but we'd like another Publicis bid too. You put together the best of the best, inside of your organization, and that's who we'd like to talk to.” At that point it was up to Maurice.

You’re collecting an Effie for your work with Fallon in the midst of this review. What more were you looking for that wasn’t there?

It’s not an indictment of Fallon's capabilities and what they've done. It's us saying you know what, we have a huge opportunity in front of us. Three new product launches. Two new products are still launching. We've got this huge global growth plan that we want to execute. It's time for us to stand back and say let's bring in the best minds in the business. Let's have them contribute their thoughts and ideas, and look at them all and see who's the right partner to go forward with. It could be Fallon. It could be IPG. It's based on our desire to challenge ourselves to make sure we're bringing the right stuff together.

Speaking of global conflicts, any concerns about DDB doing work with Volkswagen outside of the US?

There wasn't a concern about that. We could work through that.

Do you see yourself ending this process with one agency the world over?

Don't know yet.

We've got eight to nine agencies contributing to Cadillac right now around the world. We need to construct a model that we don't have eight to nine fiefdoms running our creative communications. There’s one Cadillac brand. Is there a unifying idea? What does that want to be? And then how does that filter into the work and creative and the asset acquisition and all of that? And then what's the best way to manage and control my job globally, so that, if you're a businessperson, and you live in Los Angeles and you go on a business trip to China, and you see a Cadillac ad and you're like, “What was that? That has nothing to do with the Cadillac I think about.” Because it's one brand. Cartier and Vuitton and Hermes—they're the same everywhere.

So you might end up with one agency leading the strategic and global thinking for the brand but still have some partners in other markets helping execute?

Yeah, it could be that. We asked each of them to come up with a model. They're all very different in terms of their approach. That's not the key factor in this, but you know we wanted to get thinking on that, and start working through that. Because global Cadillac is a relatively new creation and structurally we haven’t even finished how we're going to do that.

There’s something of a perception in the marketplace, based in part on how the news of the review broke, that this has always been a shoo-in for Campbell Ewald …

That was unfortunate because we were going to do a review. I don't really know how that happened. I don't know who said what to who. It wasn't inside our building. We felt it was important to do a review, not just to award the business in some way. This review was completely open. Transparent. And fair. Everybody had an equal shot going into this. There wasn't favoritism. I can tell you that my time [and] my team's time has been equally distributed across four agencies, to the point of fairness like I've never seen before.

Where I had one conversation with one agency that lasted a couple hours, I felt obligated to then have that same couple hours with each of the other agencies. And I did it in different ways. Some Fallon people came to see me. Talked to some folks at IPG. Went out and met with people at DDB. I was here for another meeting with the Publicis folks as a follow up. We did chemistry visits, they were all the same amount of time. … We were incredibly fair throughout this entire process. To a fault. And yes, you know somebody put the cart in front of the horse when they're really wasn't something there. Trying to force an issue. We still don't know who did that. But it wasn't inside our building.