By now you have probably read or viewed on a screen the Cadillac “Dare Greatly” ad. While advertisements aren’t something that we ordinarily talk about, this repositioning of Cadillac is worth noting.
The text of the ad is an edited version of a speech that was given by Theodore Roosevelt at the Sorbonne in 1910.
The Cadillac version reads: “It is not the critic who counts; the credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again; who knows great enthusiasms; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who knows at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”
So in other words, try, try and try again.
The paragraph from Roosevelt’s speech, which was titled “Citizenship in a Republic,” a speech which looks at a number of subjects, is far more complex, too long for an advertisement, to say nothing of a poster that people may have on the walls of their cubicles to pump themselves up:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Clearly, you don’t want “dust and sweat and blood” in your car ad, so trimming was naturally in order.
One thing that is a bit odd about the Cadillac ad (and remember, “It is not the critic who counts”) is that it does talk about shortcomings and failures (“Who errs, who comes short again and again. . .If he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”).
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my premium luxury car to come up short. I don’t want to have my car fail.
Cadillac, as is widely attested, is making some damn fine automobiles. The “Standard of the World” line may not be wholly accurate, but they’ve sighted the benchmark vehicles and the Cadillac designers and engineers have made Rooseveltian strides to at least meet and often succeed those vehicles with cars like the ATS and CTS. Make no mistake: these are simply world-class products.
While there seems to be a creeping homogenization among the designs of some German vehicles, Cadillac designers have been consistently pushing and refining their creases, edges and body forms in a way that drives forward while reflecting back on where they came from.
It is odd that the ad talks about failure and defeat.
Contrast what Cadillac is saying with what Apple has said from the start, when the famous “1984” ad ran. They always said that they were going to strive and win. They said that thinking differently is what needs to be done. They celebrated the rebels and the thinkers and the doers and the artists who put a dent in the universe. They didn’t even consider that they would have been beaten back by Microsoft or Sony or Samsung or whatever.
That was unthinkable.
The Cadillac print ad shows no cars. The short versions of the video ad shows cars like cabs and anonymous cars parked on the street. The long version teases the forthcoming CT6 luxury sedan.
So what are we to make of that glimpse? What are we to imagine that the vehicle is about?
In the context of the edited Roosevelt lines, it strikes me that in some ways it evokes a line written by a great American writer, Budd Schulberg. It is a line from the 1954 film “On the Waterfront”:
“I coulda been a contender.”
That’s certainly not where Cadillac needs to be.
Another line from Roosevelt’s speech is appropriate, perhaps: “No permanent good comes from aspirations so lofty that they have grown fantastic and have become impossible. . . .”
Cadillac designs and builds some cars that need not take second place to any marque.
That, I think, is what people need understand. In this business, it is about delivering on the goods. Not trying to deliver.