Ultra-Targeted Marketer Rolls-Royce Taps KBS&P as First Agency of Record

Luxury Brand Isn't Out to Reach Masses, Sold Just 2,711 Cars Worldwide Last Year

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Somehow, in an economy that 's tepid at best, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars continues to sell its ultra-exclusive Ghosts and Phantoms to a narrow, ultra-exclusive market.

Now, as the luxury car brand tries to ride the momentum and appeal to a more youthful market, Rolls-Royce has selected Kirshenbaum Bond Senecal & Partners as its first agency of record for marketing communications in North America.

Previously, Rolls-Royce has used "different agencies piece-meal for different projects," said Oleg Satanovsky, corporate communications manager for Woodcliff Lake, N.J.-based Rolls-Royce Motor Cars North America.

Rolls Royce Phantom
Rolls Royce Phantom

"We were looking for a new agency to go with a new vision for Rolls-Royce," Mr. Satanovsky told AdAge.com. "Ever since we started marketing cars here again in 2003, it's still been viewed as a very traditional company. We want to try to go forward with a more dynamic marketing program to coincide with our new cars."

Mr. Satanovsky said part of the decision to choose Kirshenbaum-Bond, which has done work for Van Cleef & Arpels jewelers and NetJets private jets, was because of that experience with similar luxury brands. But the marketing for the brand is limited. Rolls-Royce has rarely, if ever, used traditional TV and print campaigns, and in fact KBS&P is charged with creating campaigns focused on North American car connoisseurs that include direct marketing, acquisition and loyalty programs, customer relationship management, segmentation strategies and interactive marketing initiatives. KBS&P was recently named lead creative agency for BMW North America. Rolls-Royce Motor Cars is a subsidiary of BMW, though they operate as separate brands.

Rolls-Royce isn't looking to appeal to the masses here. The company, Mr. Satanovsky said, sold just 2,711 cars worldwide last year -- and yet that was its best year ever, with the vehicles coming in at a sticker price anywhere between $180,000 and $500,000. There are only 82 dealerships worldwide, including 32 in the U.S., three in Canada and one in Mexico.

"Less than 1/10 of 1% of the U.S. can or will buy a Rolls-Royce," said Steve Thibodeau, chief digital officer at KBS&P told AdAge.com. "Their target audience is so exclusive, it's almost mind-boggling how difficult it is to reach this audience and the lifestyle they lead. Some of it is old money, some is new money, some is inherited money. Some are rappers, some are tech people, some are athletes. The way they shop for a car is like shopping for a work of art. It's like cultivating a collection."

Asked how he will approach such a thin population with, say, direct mail, Mr. Thibodeau said, "It won't be with a postcard or a No. 10 envelope. It will be more like hand-made artifacts; give somebody something of value, something that makes them want to pick up the phone and make an appointment (with a dealer)."

Mr. Thibodeau said KBS&P will also be heavily involved in event marketing. In the past, Rolls-Royce has had a presence at such events as golf tournaments at tony Pebble Beach, Calif., and the Kentucky Derby. But local events are the bread and butter of the dealerships.

"These are very relationship-based sales, and from a marketing standpoint it's very event-driven," said Thomas Roach, sales manager for Rolls-Royce Motor Cars of Greenwich, Conn. "We'll do a luncheon, for example, for 12 couples that are prospective buyers. We'll use a fleet of Rolls-Royces and we'll all drive somewhere to a very nice place. Rolls-Royce would rather do that than have an open luncheon for 300 people where maybe you get two, three prospective buyers."

Even parent company BMW doesn't feel the need to put big dollars behind Rolls-Royce. In the first six months of the year, BMW has spent $78 million while less than $100,000 has been against Rolls-Royce, according to Kantar Media and Ad Age DataCenter research.

"We cater to a different clientele," said Mr. Satanovsky, who noted that global Rolls-Royce sales are up 60% through the first nine months of the year compared to 2010. "We're a small manufacturer. It takes 22 days to build a ghost, up to 22 days to build a Phantom because they're hand-made. With our Rolls-Royce Bespoke program, it can take three to six months to customize a car. Ordering a Rolls-Royce is really like commissioning a piece of art."

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