DDB breaks new ground with VW Golf commercial

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WOLFSBURG -- Volkswagen and DDB, Germany -- which earlier this year radically overhauled itself in order to retain the VW account in Germany -- have driven down a new route in advertising for the launch of the fourth-generation Golf.

The Golf launched in Germany on Oct. 2 with a record-breaking three-minute TV commercial that was carried on all German stations. The commercial has a feel of realism about it, using ordinary people rather than beautiful actors and actresses. The Golf itself only appears for a few seconds in the ad.

The message Volkswagen is trying to communicate is that people unite because of the car. Volkswagen has not decided whether the three-minute commercial will run in other European markets.

The initiative to take a new advertising approach came from Volkswagen Chairman Ferdinand Piech and Robert Buchelhofer, the marketing and distribution director. In December 1996, Volkswagen began a review of the $80m German account. In April 1997, DDB narrowly beat Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising for the account in a final shoot out. During the review, which at one time involved eight agencies, VW's marketing director and a DDB supporter left. Also in the course of the review, DDB Germany named a new chairman/CEO, creative director and additional staff. Volkswagen is DDB's largest global account, handling the business in 28 countries for a combined billings of $450m.

The three-minute commercial will be followed in coming weeks by 45-sec and 30-sec spots. There's also a print campaign. According to press reports, Volkswagen is spending between $75m and $100m in Germany alone on the Golf relaunch.

The new Golf is similar to its predecessor, which has sold more than 17 million vehicles since it was introduced in 1974. The new car goes on sale in Germany on Oct. 10. It hits France, Italy and Spain this month and the U.K. in 1998. Its competitors in the lower-medium car segment include the Opel/Vauxhall Astra, the Ford Escort, Renault Megane, Citroen Xsara and the Fiat Bravo. Mercedes-Benz is also introducing the new A-class with the hope of wooing traditional Golf owners.

In September, Volkswagen shook up the European car industry by declaring a price war in the lower- medium segment. The new Golf will not only cost less, it also includes more standard features such as side airbags and a heat-protection windshield.

Copyright October 1997, Crain Communications Inc.

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