DETROIT – In the hotly contested battle for luxury car buyers, personal experience matters most. So Cadillac is putting potential customers behind the wheel of a 556-horsepower Cadillac CTS-V on a private racecourse.
It’s an experience few would soon forget, and that’s the point behind Cadillac V-Series Performance Lab events being held across the United States.
Named after their V-Series performance cars, Cadillac is inviting more than 3,000 potential customers – mostly owners of competing luxury/performance cars – to an exclusive, up-close-and-personal demonstration of its luxury performance cars.
The events, also known as “V-Labs,” feature a series of product demonstrations and personalized driver training, along with an opportunity to meet the drivers of Team Cadillac Racing, Johnny O’Connell and Andy Pilgrim, and Cadillac performance guru, John Heinricy, who led the V-Series engineering team.
“I am always happy to put my money where my mouth is in terms of putting people behind the wheel and letting the products speak for themselves,” said Cadillac Vice President of Marketing Don Butler. “Regardless of what they buy, I want to connect with them on their level, where they live and play, and when it’s most convenient for them.”
As part of a broader marketing effort, V-Labs function alongside other Cadillac experiential events including the Cadillac Culinary Challenge and Innovation Golf Clinics, which feature top-name chefs, such as Jonathan Waxman, Duff Goldman and Marcus Samuelsson, and golf professionals David Leadbetter, Matt Kuchar and Anthony Kim.
At each event, Cadillac has its latest products on display, and at the culinary events, attendees can test drive competing BMW, Lexus and Mercedes models. The Cadillac Culinary challenge events are open to the public, whereas the V-Series Performance Labs and Innovation Golf events are invitation-only.
James Koller, from Naperville, Ill., owner of a Lotus Elise, was recently invited to a V-Lab event at the Autobahn Country Club racetrack in Joliet, Ill, where he drove a Cadillac CTS-V coupe for the first time.
“I’ve been to similar events here with other manufacturers and I don’t ever recall companies like BMW letting people drive their M-cars for an afternoon,” he said. “I came here specifically to drive the CTS-V and it was probably the most solid car I’ve ever driven on this track. It’s composed, confident.”
Cadillac will hold a day-long V-Series Performance Academy at the Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch just outside of Las Vegas on Oct. 29-31 that is open to the public. To further widen the public reach of the V-Series events, Cadillac recently announced a chance to win a CTS-V, along with a High Performance Driving Experience at the Monticello Motor Club in New York.
According to University of Detroit Mercy marketing professor Michael Bernacci, experiential marketing programs such as Cadillac’s V-Labs are phenomena because they cut through traditional marketing clutter and provide companies a more favorable return for their marketing dollars.
However, he cautions, companies must intimately understand the lifestyles of their target demographic or risk being tuned out by potential customers.
“It’s not a game for amateurs. Experiential programs have the cognitive, emotional and behavioral levels all in one package, but it’s a big commitment,” Bernacci said. “You have to be real, and that takes time, trouble and experience to make that happen.”
Despite the risk, the reward could be more than just a one-time buyer, he said, “but a loyalist.”
Cadillac National Advertising and Promotions Manager Steve Haener, says the events will put upwards of 15,000 potential customers behind the wheel this year. He and his team received an “EX” award last June from Event Marketer, a marketing industry publication, for the Cadillac Culinary Challenge experiential events.
“We’re building into these programs the same depth of experience we put into our cars,” Haener said. “We get to meet some new potential customers and they get to enjoy a truly unique Cadillac experience that meets them where they like to spend their leisure time.”
The bottom line: customers will have some fun and save some time when it comes to purchase their next luxury car.
“Shopping for a luxury car can be an all-day ordeal, driving from dealer to dealer,” Haener said. “Here, we have a good time, do the things we’re passionate about, and let the cars speak for themselves.”
The final V-Series Performance Labs for 2011 will be held Oct. 14-16 at Road Atlanta in Braselton, Ga., and Dec.9-11 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. The events are open to invitees, regional Cadillac dealers and select media.
Cadillac has been a leading luxury auto brand since 1902. In recent years, Cadillac has engineered a historic renaissance led by artful engineering and advanced technology. More information on Cadillac can be found at media.cadillac.com.