Automotive Execs Plot Comebacks, Hype Super Bowl

Ad Age Talks to the Marketing Bigwigs at the North American International Auto Show

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At a major international auto show, the marketing machine is rarely on stage, even on press days. Of course, chief marketing officers might be observed wandering the show floor, eyeballing the competition or taking part in a panel. Then they're gone. Celebrities they are not -- even if they are rock stars in the marketing world.

Jim Farley
Jim Farley

Jim Farley, VP-global marketing, sales & service, Ford
Jim Farley is an exception. He is slick and engaging, a persuasive presenter. It was he who led the high-profile press conference introducing the Lincoln MKZ concept earlier this month.

And Mr. Farley has also been instrumental in the creation of a new advertising agency with WPP to be based in New York, temporarily called Team Lincoln. The agency will be charged with reinventing the image of the Ford subsidiary, which has languished in luxury-car limbo for more than three decades.

His message -- and his instruction to the creative agency taking the reigns -- is for Lincoln to "distinguish itself again by providing more individual, specialty motor cars, and a more personal and crafted experience to match." Lincoln plans seven new or refreshed cars by 2014, and a production version of the MKZ sedan is to be unveiled in April at the New York auto show.

A prominent strategy for Mr. Farley going forward is to emphasize vehicle prelaunch marketing efforts. The aim, he said, is "generating interest in a product before it goes on sale, [making] your media conditionally based on how much progress you make, so you don't have to blow all your money in three or four months on mainstream media."

Another part of Ford's agenda includes reducing the number of vehicle platforms worldwide to nine from 20. And instead of pouring money into developing multiple global ad campaigns, the company will limit the number of campaigns and focus on telling those stories more broadly.

"We launched the new Focus with one global campaign, and went from 15% of our entire ad budget to 5%," Mr. Farley said. "We reinvested the savings into ad buys."

Scott Keogh
Scott Keogh

Scott Keogh, CMO, Audi of America
Classy cars don't necessarily have classy ads to support them. At Audi, where 2011 sales in the U.S. set a record at 117,000 vehicles, both usually go together.

Credit in part goes to Scott Keogh, Audi's straight-shooting CMO, who is bullish on social-media marketing and determined to keep the momentum. Sure, vorsprung durch technik -- advancement through technology -- is part of the Audi equation, but leveraging the clout of online chatter with Gen Y and even among Audi's older target audience is crucial.

"This is not a bunch of teenagers hanging out in Starbucks, but real people spending real money to buy expensive cars," Mr. Keogh said at a conference hosted by Ad Age sibling Automotive News.

Mr. Keogh told Ad Age Audi will spotlight the new S7 -- its lesser cousin, the A7, won a slew of awards recently -- in the Super Bowl, where Audi has been a fixture since its famous "Godfather" send-up in 2008. Audi has been using Venables, Bell & Partners as its creative agency since 2006, and Mr. Keogh said there are no plans to change shops.

Olivier Francois
Olivier Francois

Olivier Francois, CMO, Chrysler, Fiat
The effervescent Oliver Francois says he has at least one tough act to follow from last year, and at least one tough assignment going forward. The former is the wildly successful two-minute Chrysler "Imported From Detroit" spot that broke ground in Super Bowl marketing, while the latter is making Fiat viable in the U.S.

"In the case of Fiat, the responsibility is all here," said Mr. Francois, indicating himself and Tim Kiniskis, who was recently named Fiat brand manager in the U.S. Mr. Kiniskis takes the helm following the departure of Laura Soave, and in the wake of creative missteps involving spots featuring Jennifer Lopez. Those spots didn't move much metal, but Mr. Francois continues to defend them as "hugely beneficial to the awareness of the car."

"So now in the case of Fiat North America, what do we want to do? It's very simple," Mr. Francois said. "First, we have some set objectives. We are in better shape in January 2012 than one year ago to set sales targets. Now we have dealerships."

As far as planning for spots in this year's Super Bowl, Mr. Francois hasn't outlined any detail but says product, not propaganda, is on the table. "This year, the money goes on what we make. Topping last year is just an ego thing," he said.

Steve Shannon
Steve Shannon

Steve Shannon, VP-marketing, Hyundai
Major adjustments are going on at Hyundai's global headquarters in South Korea and at its creative agency, California-based Innocean.

Recently the automaker's CMO, Wonhong Cho, hinted that Hyundai may enlist other agencies in other parts of the world to promote a new image, dubbed "modern premium," that would extend through its range. Mr. Shannon says he will continue to use Innocean for "U.S.-specific" creative work, however.

"There's a profound transition in this brand. It used to be all about price, now it's all about value," explained Mr. Shannon. The hoped-for results: higher transaction prices, a younger demographic and a more affluent customer.

"As a challenger brand in the U.S., the tone of voice and personality is key. We don't have a lot of car speak in our ads," he said. "We tend to have conversations, and Jeff Bridges [who does voice-overs] is a storyteller."

Hyundai is planning two 30-second spots and one 60-second spot in next month's Super Bowl, "in keeping with our big-voices-in-big-places media strategy," Mr. Shannon said. Hyundai also plans to air seven spots during the Academy Awards.

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