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I argue that Cadillac appeals to classist capitalistic beliefs by constructing their customers as being part of an elite group. In the early decades of the Cadillac brand, Cadillac’s advertising consistently presents the Cadillac as a status symbol.1 In the 1980s, as Cadillac began the struggle to compete with other luxury car brands, they were forced to start appealing to a slightly lower class of individuals. Despite this, Cadillac continued to make it clear that their goal was to restore Cadillac’s prestigious image rather than to continue to reduce themselves as they were.
Today Cadillac is back to being associated with the privileged upper class, but with more people today noticing and questioning the traditionally hegemonic devices that they often use, this association limits their audience more than ever.
Framework: This analysis seeks to gain an understanding of Cadillac’s advertising objectives by evaluating their presentation from a “Neo-Marxist” perspective. This perspective can be further narrowed by focusing on the theory of hegemony and the myths used for maintaining the status quo and supporting our current, hegemonic, power structure.
When looking at the grandiose Cadillac advertisements of the 1940s and 1950s, we are bombarded by imagery associated with wealth and the upper class, which can easily be dismissed as having no deeper purpose other than to associate Cadillac with everything else Americans strive to attain; However, upon closer inspection we see that these advertisements also serve to reinforce classist beliefs to appeal to both the upper class, and those who have a strong faith in the “American Dream”.
This sort of appeal is supported by the Marxist theory of cultural hegemony, which claims that those in power keep their power by working to maintain cultural myths that would make people satisfied with their current position.5 One Cadillac advertisement from 1958, for example, showcases a pure white Cadillac next to an elegantly dressed white couple, and above them all is the word “supremacy” in large capitalized letters.6 This imagery manages to not only reinforce the superiority of the car being presented, it reinforces the superiority of the white and the wealthy, Cadillac’s target audience, thus, persuading the rich to buy the car while persuading others that these are the ideals they should strive for or support. All of this contributes to maintaining the status quo, as the theory of cultural hegemony suggests.
A more modern example of Cadillac favoring the use of hegemonic devices in their advertising would be the “Cadillac ELR” electric car commercial from 2014, which depicts a white man walking through his mansion talking to the viewer about how hard work for more wealth and material items is a virtue, while heavily criticizing the work ethic of European countries. This all leads up to him telling the audience that “if you work hard anything is possible” and then proceeding to take a seat in his new Cadillac. On the surface this commercial was meant to appeal to audience’s patriotism, but on a deeper level the commercial was bluntly claiming that the American Dream isn’t a myth and that success always correlates directly with work inputted. This isn’t true at all, but is a convenient belief for those in power to keep their power, and an esteem-boosting one for the monetarily successful people who Cadillac wants to sell their cars to. Even though this commercial ended up falling short when it comes to convincing non-rich people of the American Dream myth, with more people being offended rather than inspired by the ideal presented in the commercial than maybe they would have been in the 1950s when people were less questioning of the American Dream,3 it still makes an active attempt to convince people that the American capitalistic institutions are superior and need no change.
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