Volkswagen Ad Account In Review: Agency Plum

Posted by: David Kiley on August 17, 2009

Volkswagen of America announced today it is reviewing its $200 million-plus advertising account, which has been at Crispin Porter + Bogusky since 2005.

The German automaker is laying plans for a massive push in North America over the next decade, including several new models and a new assembly plant in Tennessee.

Ad agencies expected to be competing are DDB, which handles VW ads overseas and used to handle them in the U.S.; Deutsch and Goodby Silverstein and Partners. There are more agencies to be named.

Crispin Porter said it will not defend the business.

The review comes on the heels of VW AG naming former Fiat marketing chief Luca De Meo as its new global marketing chief.

“Our goal of rapidly increasing our volume in a mature market requires the Volkswagen brand to evolve into a more relevant mainstream choice,” Tim Ellis, VP-marketing at Volkswagen of America, said in a statement. “The Volkswagen brand needs to inspire our base of enthusiasts as well as reach out and captivate those in mainstream America. Therefore, we are re-evaluating all areas of our business and after careful considerations have decided to take the necessary steps to ensure we have the right agency partner in place.”

Ad consultant Dick Roth is working with VW on the review.

DDB is expected to pull out the stops to win the business. It has been a sore point with the Omnicom agency that it handles VW in most other markets in the world. It lost the U.S. business in the 1990s to Arnold Worldwide just as it was mounting a renaissance around the New Beetle.

Crispin won the business in 2005 when then-ad chief Kerri Martin fired Arnold and put the business at CPB without a review. The ad agency had worked for Martin in the launch of MINI USA.

Deutsch/LA, which has handled Saturn and GM ad business, is widely expected to be invited to pitch. Since GM is in process of selling Saturn, its status on the business is very much up in the air. Deutsch has also done ad work recently for GM helping explain the automaker’s bankruptcy and re-emergence to the public.

There has been chatter in Detroit that GM, out of a desire to keep Deutsch, would assign it the Cadillac business now at Modernista! or perhaps the Buick brand, which is now at Leo Burnett.

The invitation to pitch VW may force GM’s hand if it wants to hang onto the agency.

Goodby Silverstein, San Francisco, last handled Hyundai USA. But earlier this year, Hyundai transferred its ad business to an in-house ad firm.

Volkswagen has weathered the recession better than most automakers. Sales are off 13.5% through July, compared with an industry-wide decline of 32%.

Earlier this year, Crispin launched a campaign themed “Meet The Volkswagens,” which put new VW models in the same ads as classic VW’s like the Beetle and Microbus. Last year, the agency and automaker began running ads featuring a black talking VW Beetle in ads. In an interview with me earlier this year, marketing chief Tim Ellis said the strategy of using classic VW’s had spiked engagement ratings for VW ads.

Reader Comments

Josh Healan

August 17, 2009 4:23 PM

Hmmmmm? We're doing better than almost every other car brand in the U.S. So let's fire our ad agency. That makes a ton of sense! Although I hate almost all of the ad campaigns CPB has developed for VW, the campaigns have obviously worked. VW needs to focus less on switching their agency (again) and focus on fixing the long-term quality issues of their vehicles.

Josh Healan

August 17, 2009 4:23 PM

Hmmmmm? We're doing better than almost every other car brand in the U.S. So let's fire our ad agency. That makes a ton of sense! Although I hate almost all of the ad campaigns CPB has developed for VW, the campaigns have obviously worked. VW needs to focus less on switching their agency (again) and focus on fixing the long-term quality issues of their vehicles.

Bernice

August 17, 2009 4:59 PM

Hoping Volkswagen will bring back the manual in the Beetle Convertible... or at least make it an option..
there are alot of us who really like to drive.Put the fun back into driving a new bug convertibl.

Gus

August 18, 2009 10:14 AM

Fire the agency the - Modernista! doing good work (and made up of a team that ironically did a bunch of VW work at Arnold) and slot-in an agency - Deutsch - that has been doing things that keep falling on their face. That would makes no sense for GM. I love Business Week is now just quoting chatter in Detroit, great reporting.

CW

August 18, 2009 1:34 PM

So no talk of them going to Modernista? For the most part, those are the people who made them famous at Arnold in the 90's. Could be an extremely wise move. And they have got to hate working for GM.

CSM

August 31, 2009 10:46 AM

Regarding Gus' comment about Business Week merely recycling Detroit chatter... some of us are not plugged into the chatter, gossip, or other auto advertising insider knowledge. Business Week does a great job of bringing these industry-specific, but insightful news items, to the rest of us.
About CPB is responsible for the Routan "Boom" campaign then I believe they single-handedly earned this agency review!

James Hale

October 19, 2009 12:13 AM

No one can touch the old DDB. Arnold did some pretty nice stuff for it in the 90's. CP+B did below average work (for Crispin) that looked like the client had walked all over strategically and creatively. The "Sign & Drive" or whatever it was called was an example of how bad it got. It's a shame, they didn't let CP+B really do their thing. That probably would've work. Instead they used ridiculously bad has-been actors to do luke warm comedy spots to remind us of how middle-of-the-road boring the brand had become. Crispin almost had it with a Rabbit/Golf GTI reintroduction "FAST' campaign, which had a strange little character that looked like a cross between Darth Vader and the Tasmanian Devil.

The Modernista guys are smart enough to do really interesting work. I say they should get it. Maybe, maybe Goodby (who's hired away all of Cripin's good people) may still have a little something left, but probably not. The Comcastic nonsense is an example of how bad they've sold out. Deutsch... Deutsch... Unless Telepopmusik comes out with another catchy tune they've got nothing.

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News, opinions, inflammatory meanderings and occasional ravings about the world of advertising, marketing and media. By marketing editor Burt Helm, Innovation Editor Helen Walters, and senior correspondent Michael Arndt.

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