BMW mobilizes $30 mil review for Land Rover

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Land Rover North America is reviewing its $30 million account, a move that reflects the desire by the British marketer's German parent, BMW Group, to whip the global operations of Rover Group into profitability.

After taking a hands-off approach to troubled Rover since acquiring it in 1994, BMW started making bold moves last year, including sales goals for the U.S., according to James Selwa, who joined Land Rover North America in August as VP-marketing.

With just two sport-utility vehicle models, Rover missed its 1999 U.S. sales target of 30,000 units by 620 vehicles, Mr. Selwa said. And the target is increasing; by the end of 2005, the goal is to sell 100,000 units annually in the U.S., he said.

CHANGING RELATIONSHIP

"BMW's influence [at Land Rover] changed the whole nature of our relationship," said Roy Grace, chairman of incumbent agency Grace & Rothschild, New York. "We no longer had a true partnership and the account virtually became unprofitable for us."

The shop will not defend the account when a closed review starts soon under consultant Richard Roth & Associates, New York.

"Relationships have a lot to do with accounts," Mr. Grace said. "We never had a great relationship with the new people."

Mr. Selwa said he was surprised the agency declined to participate. He added that no contenders had been identified or invited as yet, and that he expects roughly eight shops on a long list. The review will take up to 10 weeks.

He admitted the tricky part for the new agency will be to expand the brand's appeal to more buyers while keeping its exclusivity. Land Rover will launch a U.S. version of the Freelander small SUV, on sale in Europe since May 1998, sometime in 2001.

LESS EXCLUSIVITY

Mass-market advertising by Land Rover would diminish the brand's exclusivity, said consultant James Hall, a VP at AutoPacific.

Land Rover consolidated its U.S. media buying and planning at DeWitt Media, New York, in August without a review. DeWitt had already handled the media accounts for BMW cars and motorcycles.

BMW also hasn't spared Rover in Europe, where the brand suffered from aging small-car models and quality problems. Last summer, BMW moved staff and decisionmaking on global advertising from Rover's base in the U.K. to its own headquarters in Munich.

Longtime Rover agency Lowe Lintas & Partners Worldwide, London, lost the U.K. account to M&C Saatchi in September. WCRS, London, in August won a review for the $30 million launch of Rover's new 25 "supermini" and 45 small cars.

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