American Renaissance

Bling of the Road

While Cadillac looked the other way, hip-hop crowned it a big-time player. Now the car maker finds itself catering to two quite distinct markets.

Dan Neil, L. A. Times, Mar. 10

As Cadillac heads down the road, what kind of music is on the stereo?

The GM luxury division’s “Break Through” television ad campaign defibrillates viewers’ hearts with Led Zeppelin’s 1971 classic “Rock and Roll.” Let us not kid ourselves. This ad campaign is aimed primarily at white boomers, affluent suburbanites as young as 44 and as old as, say, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, rock gods who are spending entirely too much time in the bathroom.

Yet Cadillac’s biggest fans are at the other end of pop culture’s radio dial. According to a survey by San Francisco-based marketing analyst Lucian James, Cadillac became the most name-dropped brand in songs on Billboard’s Top 20 chart in January 2004, overtaking Mercedes-Benz, which has long been hip-hop’s shibboleth of bling-bling materialism. (Other names to watch on James’ “American Brandstand” list include Lexus, Hennessey, Cristal and Gucci.)

In Los Angeles in February, GM staged the “All-Star Showdown,” a charity event at which prominent athletes and celebrities, mostly African Americans — including Shaquille O’Neal, Busta Rhymes, Public Enemy and Martin Lawrence — competed for the title “King of Bling” with their pimped-out Cadillac Escalades and Hummer H2s.

Five years ago, Cadillac was about as hip as wingtips. Today the brand is on the bleeding edge of what’s cool, a fixture in urban music and cherished ride of some of Dub Nation’s biggest superstars. How did all this happen?

“It’s been a totally great surprise,” Cadillac General Manager Mark LaNeve told Automotive News last week. “In terms of generating anything that is targeted to that group, no, we can’t take credit for it. We’re too busy to know what’s cool.”

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