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True or false: Is that pink Cadillac really a Mary Kay car?

True or false: Is that pink Cadillac really a Mary Kay car?

Posted by Jil McIntosh on Dec 1st 2021

Photographs courtesy Mary Kay Inc.

Whether online or at a show, if there’s a pink 1950s Cadillac, someone will say, “Must be a Mary Kay car.” And that’s a logical assumption, given how the cosmetics company famously awards pink cars to its top salespeople.

But unless it’s a new vehicle, it likely isn’t a Mary Kay car – and if it’s pre-1970, it definitely is not.

The company was founded by Mary Kay Ash, born in 1918 in Hot Wells, Texas. She first worked for a housewares company that sold its products through home parties, and then as a sales representative for a gift company.

But she was a woman working in the 1950s, and was frequently passed over for promotions in favor of male coworkers, including some she’d trained. She decided to strike out on her own. In 1963, she purchased skin lotion formulas from a tanner who’d used them on leather, and opened Beauty by Mary Kay.

She sold her cosmetics through direct sales – women selling to women. She chose pink packaging to stand out on white-tile bathroom counters. She was successful right from the start, and in 1968, decided to treat herself to a new car. One story, yet unverified, had her first choosing a Lincoln, but the dealership treated her badly and she left. If it’s true, that automaker missed out on a spectacular marketing opportunity.

Lincoln or no Lincoln, Ash did go to Frank Kent Cadillac in Fort Worth, Texas, and bought a car and had it painted the same color as her product packaging. It was so popular with her staff that she decided to use pink cars for promotions and incentives.

At the company’s annual meeting in 1969, Ash announced that her top five salespeople would each receive a 1970 Cadillac in the company’s color.

The tradition continues today as the top-level sales reward, although the cars aren’t necessarily pink Cadillacs. That changed in 2014, when recipients could get a black BMW instead. The car isn’t an outright gift; instead, Mary Kay pays for a two-year lease. At the end of the lease, the salesperson can buy it out, or hand the car back. If it’s returned to the dealer, it must be repainted before it goes on the lot. Only Mary Kay representatives can drive pink Mary Kay cars.

Now, Mary Kay didn’t invent the pink Cadillac, of course. Some of the first belonged to boxer Sugar Ray Robinson, who had a string of them specially painted for him, starting with a 1950 model. They were repainted when he sold them. Elvis Presley had a few as well, but his first, a 1954 Cadillac, appears to be a custom job. Cadillac only offered light pink, called Mountain Laurel, in 1956 and 1957. Other American automakers had pink too, but overall, coral was offered more often than pink.

The bottom line? A Cadillac might be pink, but if it’s older than 1970, it isn’t and never was a Mary Kay car.

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