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    Cadillac signs on to Hill Holliday ad firm

    Will take lead on account worth up to $250m

    The Cadillac account is a big victory for Karen Kaplan.
    Bill Brett for the Globe/File
    The Cadillac account is a big victory for Karen Kaplan.

    Boston’s Hill Holliday and two other members of advertising giant Interpublic Group landed a plum new contract Tuesday — the multimillion-dollar campaign for Cadillac.

    The three Interpublic firms, which also include Campbell-Ewald and Lowe, beat out Cadillac’s current advertising company, the Fallon unit of Publicis Groupe, for a contract that, according to published accounts, could be worth as much as $250 million. The three companies will create a unit called Rogue to handle the Cadillac account for its parent company, General Motors Co., with Hill Holliday leading the creative and strategy portions.

    “We selected Rogue because its strategic insights, creative vision for Cadillac, and strong luxury and automotive experience were the best match for our global growth plan,” Bob Ferguson, General Motors’ vice president, Global Cadillac, said in a statement.


    The Cadillac account is the first big victory for new Hill Holliday chief executive, Karen Kaplan, the agency veteran who took over in May.

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    Hill Holliday declined to comment.

    The award also reunited Cadillac with a celebrated ad man who has a big role in helping to refresh the once-dominant American car company’s profile less than a decade ago. Hill Holliday’s chief creative officer, Lance Jensen, created the memorable Cadillac commercials that featured actress Kate Walsh asking audiences, “When you turn your car on, does it return the favor?”

    The stylized campaign, which started in 2007, helped revive the General Motors luxury brand, and car sales increased 25 percent in four months, according to Modernista, the now-defunct ad agency that created the campaign under Jensen’s leadership.

    “The styling of Cadillac went from very, very staid, to very edgy,” said Chiranjeev Kohli, marketing professor at California State University Fullerton.


    Cadillac has seen steadily rising sales, and is reporting the highest year-over-year sales increases compared with other brands in the General Motors family, but still lags behind its foreign luxury competitors.

    With powerful — and stylized  — new models, Cadillac has increasingly tried to appeal to a younger demographic. But Kohli said the brand that became linked with with senior citizens had yet to win over a large swath of the car-buying population.

    “I don’t think the task is complete,” Kohli said. “When I think of Cadillac, in terms of images in my head, I’m still not ready to make the jump, and I think a lot of people are in that mindset.”

    Jensen, though, has a knack for tuning into younger consumers. He has run campaigns for Napster and MTV and also was the creative force behind the wildly popular “Drivers Wanted” commercials for Volkswagen that positioned the carmaker as the hip brand for younger motorists.

    Jensen’s former colleague at Modernista, Chris Wallrapp, is now the marketing director at Hill Holliday.


    Geoff Klapisch, a professor of advertising at Boston University, said Jensen and Wallrapp will probably give Cadillac an edge in an extremely competitive advertising market.

    The Cadillac account is a big victory for Karen Kaplan.

    “It seems like with Hill Holliday, Cadillac is looking for an infusion of fresh ideas, some new thinking,” said Klapisch. “Every advertiser is looking for any advantage they can get, and Cadillac has found theirs.”

    Hill Holliday is best known for its ad campaigns such as the Dunkin’ Donuts “You Kin’ Do It,” and Bank of America’s “Life’s Better When We’re Connected,” but has not handled many car accounts. Another local ad agency, Arnold Worldwide, does work for Volvo, and in March American Honda Motor Co. said that Mullen of Boston will be the ad agency of record for its Acura luxury brand.

    Gail Waterhouse can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @gailwaterhouse.