Fallon Off the Mark With Cadillac

An account that was supposed to bring about the agency’s rebirth has put it under pressure

Last summer, Fallon appeared to have scored big when it landed Cadillac and its estimated $270 million account. It wasn’t just a much-needed shot in the fiscal arm, but it was a chance to get the agency back to the glory days of its BMW Films era from 10 years ago. But now, little more than a year later, Fallon’s relationship with the automaker is troubled.

As part of that quest to get back to its heyday, Fallon turned to some of the key executives from the BMW work, which was a series of Internet shorts starring Clive Owen and shot by famous directors like Guy Ritchie and Ang Lee. The biggest name among those executives was Bruce Bildsten. In order to lure him back to be the lead creative for Cadillac, Fallon gave Bildsten what sources told Adweek is a $700,000 salary.

Now, though, Bildsten may just be a cause of the tension between the two companies. In fact, multiple sources told Adweek that Joel Ewanick, the global chief marketing officer for Cadillac parent GM, personally asked the agency to pull Bildsten off the account altogether.

Ewanick denies that and says Bildsten—who he calls “one of the best copywriters in the business”—is still working on the brand. But as Adweek was going to press last week, Ewanick and Fallon founder Pat Fallon became eager to talk for this article, despite the fact that Fallon was on vacation and Ewanick was in Pebble Beach unveiling Cadillac’s new Ciel concept convertible.

“[The agency is] still trying to find a way to the work. They’re really close to nailing it. It’s been a combination of learning from the first round of ads and later reiterations,” Ewanick says. “I’m rarely satisfied with creative. I’m not going to hide the fact that I’ve been pretty strong. I can’t afford to run a [grade] ‘C’ ad. But I never raised my voice. I just asked sharp questions.”

Still, Fallon’s Team Cadillac has seen turnover. The latest to go was its managing director, Chris Eschenburg, who joined the agency last July. His contract was not renewed.

Sources said that Fallon’s execution of Cadillac’s “Red Blooded Luxury” campaign has been an issue. While Ewanick underscored his loyalty to Pat Fallon, he acknowledges there have been execution problems. One such example: the “Arrows” commercial for Cadillac’s CTS-V Coupe, which Ewanick says was a good idea on paper but, in practice, “looked fake.” If Fallon can’t turn things around, and soon, it could be in serious trouble. The Cadillac account is its largest, and by some estimates close to 60 of Fallon’s 100 or so U.S. employees are working on it full-time.

A new set of creative executions will debut this fall, and that may put the agency in stronger stead with GM. Fallon’s work is becoming “pretty darn good,” Ewanick says, though he added that the agency needs to prove it can make that level of quality happen “consistently.”

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