December 12, 2014 Kevin Erb

Exported from Detroit

moving_dayPeanut butter and jelly. Batman and Robin. Bert and Ernie.

General Motors and the Motor City.

Just as with these other famous twosomes, the car maker and the car capital are so inextricably linked that it’s hard to imagine one without thinking of the other.

For brands as much as for people, where we’re from helps define who we are. Just about everything that makes Cadillac a uniquely American luxury car company is owed to its roots in the Motor City. Indeed, for the better part of a century, Cadillac did little to hide its Detroit heritage or obscure its place among the other branches of the GM family tree.

All that is beginning to change, however.

Cadillac made big news this fall when it announced it was beginning to transition a big portion of its headquarters from Detroit to New York City in an effort, it said, “to distinguish the brand and afford it a separate identity that conveys a premium message, rather than simply a name that denotes GM’s luxury brand.”

On the face of it, this makes a lot of strategic sense. For the better part of the 20th century, competition from luxury brands outside the U.S. against Cadillac were minimal. Planting your brand flag as GM’s luxury brand was the smart way to go. As globalization grew, however, and as both Japanese and European luxury brands continued to set their sights on growing marketshare in the U.S., being the American luxury brand became less of a selling point and more of a punchline.

Such shifts (or evolutions) for a brand are easier said than done, however, and generally not as nice and tidy as flipping a switch. Fellow carmaker Ford tried this a few years ago – the Taurus was such a maligned and poorly made product that it became a national punchline; in turn, Ford simply tried rebranding the vehicle as the 500. Ford quickly realized the folly of such an endeavor, however, focused instead on improving the quality and ultimately returned to the Taurus name.

All of which is to say: It’s easy to see why Cadillac thinks such a move is important for changing what it sees as an outdated perception of its brand; it’s also not as easy, however, as simply changing your address.

As brands, changing how we’re perceived is hard – which is why we often pursue solutions that make it seem easy.