Selling the Steaks, not the Sizzle

Elmer Wheeler, an early marketing & branding guru, and public speaker.  “Sell the Sizzle, not the Steak” was one of his trademark expressions, and the chapter title for one of the chapters in his book, “Tested Sentences that Sell”.

The expression “Sell the Sizzle, not the Steak” means that people don’t really care about the features of your product, they care about the benefits to themselves as buyers.  Quote:

“WHAT WE MEAN by the “sizzle” is the BIGGEST selling point in your proposition – the MAIN reasons why your prospects will want to buy. The sizzling of the steak starts the sale more than the cow ever did, though the cow is, of course, very necessary!

Hidden in everything you sell, whether a tangible or an intangible, are “sizzles.” Find them and use them to start the sale. Then, after desire has been established in the prospect’s thinking, you can bring in the necessary technical points.

The good waiter realizes he must sell the bubbles – not the champagne. The grocery clerk sells the pucker – not the pickles, the whiff – not the coffee. It is the tang in the cheese that sells it!

The insurance man sells PROTECTION, not cost per week. Only the butcher sells the cow and not the sizzle, yet even he knows that the promise of the sizzle brings him more sales of his better cuts.”

Recently GM VP Bob Lutz said he didn’t want to see another marketing campaign that sells the sizzle and not the steak.

In a September interview with Automotive News, Bob Lutz, GM’s head of marketing and Nesbitt’s boss, said Modernista and Cadillac have done enough visually edgy ads with attention-getting music.
Now Cadillac will run more ads that explain the value of the brand’s products compared to the imports.
“I won’t sit here and permit ads that keep simply emphasizing the sizzle and never talk about the steak,” Lutz said. “We’re going to start selling the steak.”

I think by that he means that he doesn’t want to see commercials that are purely about lifestyle or impressions without actually focusing on the product itself, or on comparisons of GM products with competitors.  So, how can the next set of Cadillac marketing follow the philosophy proven successful by Elmer Wheeler and still ace the intent that Bob Lutz wants to see?

Actually, the two are not as different as you might think.  What Elmer Wheeler advocated was to bring in customers based on the tangible and intangible benefits to the customer, then to highlight the technical details that validate their interest in your product.  That does NOT have to be in contrast to Mr. Lutz’ point about the advertisements.

Let’s take the new 2010 Cadillac SRX:

Benefits — Technical details

Elegant — Leather interior, Luxury accessories, state of the art entertainment

Efficient — nimble, fuel efficient, family-friendly, easy to park, great visibility, versatility in load carrying

Sporty — good power, great handling, nimble, responsive

And at an even deeper level of detail are specifications:

Specifications: custom Theta/Epsilon Cadillac SUV suspension, 3L VVT DI V6 or 2.8L VVT Turbo V6, Bose stereo, available Navigation, ONSTAR, wood trim, leather

So which of these are the steak and which are the sizzle?  One is inclined to say that the Benefits are the sizzle, and the technical details are the steak, right?  The Cadillac websites do a good job of bringing out these benefits, and the technical detail behind them.

Unfortunately, a lot of the current advertising does not get into the ‘benefits’ as described above — current commercials may only show Cadillac vehicles, with a voice over that never mentions these benefits at all.

Example 2010 SRX Commercial on YouTube


  • Cadillac is NOT a commodity product, but is a premium product that can sell itself if the ads will focus on the product
  • Cadillac needs to start directly addressing the benefits of Cadillac products in their marketing, and bringing in the technical details to close the deal.
  • If Cadillac can level the playing field, so that comparisons with competitors are done based on facts, Cadillac wins.

Who is Kate Walsh appealing to in her Cadillac CTS?

Ms. AdverThinker has an interesting opinion piece on the targeting and impact of the Kate Walsh Cadillac CTS commercial.  The blog is a speculation on Cadillac’s targeting of the female demographic, and the writer’s feelings or response to the commercial.

The commercials are playing again, and again, I asked a friend: is it weird that I really like these commercials?  This sparked an interesting conversation about who Cadillac is really targeting.  I assume that it is single, successful females-without young children-who connect with the the Addison Montgomery character of Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice.

I was surprised to consider that Cadillac was targeting a female demographic at all in this piece.  I consider a very attractive woman driving a Cadillac in a competitive manner appealing to a male demographic.  Perhaps because I consider the commercial from my point of view of course, and not as a targeted advertisement.

“In today’s luxury game, the question isn’t whether or not your car has available features like a 40-gig hard drive. It isn’t about sun roofs or Sapelli wood accents, popup nav screens or any of that. No, the real question is: When you turn your car on, does it return the favor?”

Advertising Age in their write up in 2007 echoed the idea that most people who DON’T drive a current Cadillac may be under the mistaken impression that Cadillac makes floaty land yachts and not high performance luxury sedans.  Their take on the response women might have from Kate Walsh’s performance in the commercial:

And so will women, who are sure to see this brazen foxiness as empowering — and maybe more than that.

I am glad to see Cadillac is still running this commercial a year later, which is a very long life for a commercial. Hopefully the success of this example will lead to other similar commercials that communicate features of modern Cadillacs well.