Let’s hope that luxury carmaker Cadillac’s notion of using high-profile chefs and cooking competitions as a means to lure potential customers into test-driving their vehicles succeeds. This food-based marketing strategy could open up lucrative side jobs for chefs while simultaneously creating tons of no-cost publicity for their restaurants.
You’d think the opportunity to drop by a nearby mall to test drive a bunch of different Cadillacs—no showroom pressure!—would draw a good-sized crowd. Who wouldn’t want to get behind the wheel for a spin in an Escalade Hybrid, Cadillac SRX, CTS Sedan and Coupe, all in one day? That’s part of what Cadillac is offering at what it’s calling the Cadillac Culinary Challenge Test Drive event.
The Cadillac folks have you covered if you want to comparison shop, too. They’ve arranged to let customers get behind the wheel of each Cadillac model’s direct competitor, as well. Finish a test drive of one or more of the Cadillac models and you can jump into a Mercedes E350 Sedan and Coupe, a Lexus RX 350 or a BMW X5.
Since the only requirements to participate are being at least 21 years of age and having a valid drivers license, you’d think Cadillac would have trouble managing the crowds that show up. Plus, it’s free.
So where do the chefs and their food fit in? The company figured this was a good way to make sure that people with plenty of disposable income turn out and stay for a long time.
Thus was born the Cadillac Culinary Challenge Test Drive. It’s a 14-part series of two-day events that take place at upscale malls around the country. The opening event took place at King of Prussia Mall outside Philadelphia in late May, and the tour will conclude in Palm Beach Gardens, FL, just before Thanksgiving.
The idea is that potential customers will ogle and drive the cars, then take a seat for one of three daily cooking demos/contests. One chef at each tour stop is a national celebrity, the other a well-known local. The opening event pitted David Burke against Philadelphia’s Walter Staib. Other star chefs who will participate in this series include Geoffrey Zakarian, Marcus Samuelsson and Jonathan Waxman. Each appears three times per day on both days of this weekend-long event. Show times are 11:30 a.m., 2:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m.
The chefs don’t have to feed the crowd, although they will offer samples of dishes made during the demos/contests. Otherwise, it’s a catered affair.
You’ve got to admit it’s a pretty good way to spend a weekend afternoon. “Yes, the Cadillac Culinary Challenge Test Drive is a complimentary experience provided by Cadillac,” the company’s www.cadillacchallenge.com  website points out. “The only costs you will be responsible for are your personal travel costs including any fees for parking. This is a complimentary event designed for you to experience the Escalade Hybrid Cadillac SRX, CTS Sedan & Coupe, as well as competitive vehicles.”
The message to other marketing entities here is crystal clear: If you want to attract deep-pocketed consumers to your event or product showcase, a live cooking segment will get the job done. A second item of note: foodies, or at least the foodies who will turn out to see celebrity chefs do their stuff, are considered a demographic worth having by Cadillac. Given this car company’s expertise in selling products to high-end consumers, let’s hope other companies who sell big-ticket items to consumers get on the culinary bandwagon alongside Cadillac. Chefs and restaurants should get both short- and long-term payoffs if they do.