February 11, 2014 at 11:12 am

Laura Berman: In Olympics ad, Cadillac goes for smug - and green

If you’re watching the Olympics, you’ll see a Cadillac commercial that begins with a very buff 40ish guy standing poolside, sounding philosophical. “Why do we work so hard?” he asks, staring right through you. “For this? For stuff?”

Pause. You’re thinking maybe he has a deep answer to this question about working hard, something that will widen your world, that will place our penchant for workaholism into some meaningful context. But then you remember, this is a commercial.

Then he’s walking you through his sleek, airy, ultra-contemporary manse, as the camera pans fabulous exteriors and interiors, while he talks about how great Americans are. He — no, we — aren’t like those la-di-da people in other countries, who stroll home from work and take August off. The whole month of August.

“Why aren’t you like that?” he asks. “Why aren’t we like that?” Basically, he explains, because we’re better than these other people.

This isn’t an ad for women nor, one may infer, for wimps. This is a guy who voted for George W. Bush when he was 30 and just making his first million. And it’s all worked out for him.

In the commercial, Smug Guy breezes by his kids and, then, his wife, with barely a flicker of acknowledgment. He’s very, very sure of himself, too busy to slow down for familial exchanges. As a symbol of American prosperity, to most of us, he’s likely to be perceived as, at worst, a jerk, at best a mixed bag — successful, impatient, self-involved, narcissistic.

Those other people think we’re nuts, he points out. “Were we nuts when we pointed to the moon? We went up there and you know what we got?”

“Bored. So we left.”

Which is obnoxious and provocative — but definitely not dull.

“It’s not a manifesto,” David Caldwell, a spokesman for Cadillac, explained when asked about the ad. “It’s one person’s P.O.V. It’s a little bit of a rumination of why we work so hard ... we’re building a brand.”

This guy isn’t trying to please everyone or, really, anyone. He’s absolutely comfortable as a proud, strutting member of the affluent high percentiles, convinced of his superiority. “You create your own luck,” is his philosophy. Maybe he’s an innovative genius; maybe he’s spun an inheritance into more gold. So far as he’s concerned, he’s a special guy, and he’s talking to you as if you are, too.

In some circles of humanity, this commercial is touting an absolutely insufferable man as a model to emulate, even if he is a classic example of the “ugly American” and you hope nobody in Europe is watching.

Then there’s a twist in the commercial: Before Smug Guy drives off in his $75,000 Cadillac coupe, he unplugs it.

It’s an electric hybrid Cadillac ELR, and maybe he isn’t the most patient or tolerant person you’ll ever meet, but he’s not only a stereotype: He’s widening the definition of what a Cadillac owner cares about and will drive, so subtly you might almost miss it.

He’s rugged. He’s in your face. He’s self-satisfied. But to those who instinctively dislike his abundant display of attitude, he offers one redeeming, post-millennial, unexpected quality: He’s a Cadillac owner who has gone green.

lberman@detroitnews.com
(313) 222-2032

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