Say you're Cadillac.
For decades, you have been the go-to ride for old men who play golf. A status symbol for grandpas.
But time passes. Women browse car lots without men telling them what to do. They care about fuel economy and the ozone and cup holders and where the soccer balls will go.
If you're Cadillac, how do you get people talking about you again?
You play fairy godmother. You find dozens of well-connected Tampa women and shower them with fresh-smelling luxury cars. You dispatch them on local roads. You ask them to blog. How does it handle in the grocery store lot? How do their kids like the leather? How does the stereo sound while cruising over the Sunshine Skyway?
You ask them to tell their friends. And you hope they hyperventilate a little when they do.
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Just parked my beautiful Cadillac SRX in the parking garage to walk over to TBPAC for the Tampa Bay TweetUp hosted by Tampa Bloggers!
From Carissa Caricato's blog
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Last week, Caricato drove her Cadillac, which she nicknamed "Big Red," to Treasure Island for sunset, to Ybor City for sushi, to South Tampa for hula hoop lessons. She drove to work and charity events and important business lunches.
"How could you possibly pass up such a fun opportunity of driving a Cadillac for free and spreading the word about it?" said Caricato, marketing director for the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay.
In an era when fewer people have the patience to sit through television ads and fewer companies have money to buy them, marketers are looking for new ways to do their jobs.
Cadillac is using Tampa Bay, Sarasota and Orlando as guinea pigs to market its new crossover SUV, the 2010 SRX, which came out around Labor Day and costs between $34,000 and $44,000. Here's how the marketing plan works:
Each week through late November, eight women — executives, homemakers, volunteers — in the area get new Cadillac SRXs to drive. Women such as Kari Conley, community relations director for the Orlando Magic, Heidi Shimberg, vice president of marketing for the Glazer Children's Museum, recording artist September Penn, who is married to St. Petersburg Times writer Ivan Penn.
"It's absolutely new frontier," said Jennifer Costabile, regional sales and marketing manager for Cadillac. "It was exciting because it was either going to work or it wasn't going to work. The first week, we said, 'Wow, I think we've got it.' "
The women blog about what they like and what they don't (though most blogs are resoundingly enthusiastic). At the end of the week, the woman whose blog has drawn the most viewers gets $500 paid to a charity of her choice.
Caricato, 23, won the money for the Crisis Center. Through her Facebook network of 1,175 friends and Twitter network of 912 followers, she drove traffic to her Cadillac blog.
She got 771 new people reading about the car.
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The marketing plan came from a school car line.
Costabile was parked, waiting to pick up her child in Atlanta. She looked around. What the heck were all these Acura MDX's doing there? It led back to one mother in the community, she later learned — the alpha woman, who just happened to drive an Acura and inspired the other mothers to do the same.
"She's the one who is always volunteering at school, very involved, and everyone looks up to her," said Costabile. "That was kind of like an a-ha moment."
If one mom could do that, couldn't others? That demographic — young, professional women — was exactly Cadillac's missing link.
"I really think this has merit," said Ginger Watters, a public relations professional from Tampa, who painstakingly is recruiting the right kind of women to drive the cars.
"Cadillac maybe missed a generation. It was our fathers' and grandfathers' car. People in their twenties think it's very cool because of the Escalade. The people in the middle kind of thought, well, I'm going to get a foreign car."
Cadillac is taking a page from foreign carmakers and naming vehicles with a series of letters and numbers instead of words like Eldorado.
Advertising also has changed — whereas a 1974 ad featured golfer Arnold Palmer, a 2008 ad featured television star Kate Walsh, 42. Driving in stilettos, she's heard huskily confiding: "Gossip magazines, dark chocolate, Italian shoes, definitely a Kansas city rib eye, and pulling up to the boys club in one of these. These are just a few of my favorite things.''
George Peterson, president of AutoPacific, a California market research and consulting group for the auto industry, says the campaign is working.
"Cadillacs have this edgy, contemporary style now, rather than being the old floaty-boaty vehicle," he said. "You don't have to have blue hair to drive one anymore."
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I'm driving around in a big, macked out Cadillac SRX for the next week and blogging about my adventures in a competition to win a $500 donation to one of my fave charities - The Homeless Coalition of Hillsborough County. How cool is that???
From Julia Gorzka's blog
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Gorzka was skeptical at first. She's not really into cars. She drives a utilitarian Mini and confuses Fords for BMWs. But the charity aspect sold her. And there was another thing.
She has made a career as a social media strategist. This is what she does.
But she has never seen anything exactly like this Cadillac campaign.
"I think why the majority of businesses are so afraid — I was going to use the word hesitant, but I'll say afraid — of doing anything like this is because of that unknown. What are they going to say about it? If you know you've got a great product or a great service and you're not afraid to hear from your customers about what they would like tweaked, you're going to nail it."
Gorzka, 38, who founded social networking site brandtampa.com, never thought about driving a Cadillac before the promotion. And while she loved driving it for a week, her Mini still fits her single girl with tiny dog lifestyle better.
But . . .
She has a friend who is about to buy a minivan. She's going to tell her to check out the Cadillac instead.
Stephanie Hayes can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8857.