DDB Needham last week narrowly beat out Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising in a cliffhanger finale to a review that went through three stages of presentations, eight agencies and the departure of VW's DDB Needham-friendly marketing director.
FEAR OF OTHER LOSSES
VW's agency in 28 countries, DDB Needham feared that losing its grip on the account in the carmaker's homeland and Europe's largest market would lead to a domino-like loss of the business in other countries. The account represents 25% of DDB Needham's German billings.
The demand for more creative advertising came from the top at VW. Chairman Ferdinand Piech and Robert Buchelhofer, his handpicked marketing and distribution director hired away from BMW a year ago, initiated the German review.
The timing was deliberate: This fall, Mercedes-Benz launches its first small car, the A Class, with ads from Springer & Jacoby, Hamburg, whose car advertising VW is known to admire. The A Class will compete with VW's biggest-selling car, the Golf, being relaunched in October.
With little faith that DDB Needham's German office could come up with a dazzling Golf relaunch, VW invited seven other agencies to pitch for the whole German account.
Newly aggressive DDB Needham plucked Klaus Flettner, a dynamic 36-year-old running his own agency-Buhler & Flettner-to be its new chairman-CEO. He replaced the agency's creative director with Paul Steentjes, J. Walter Thompson Co.'s German creative director, and hired other new staff.
`A NEW AGENCY'
"If DDB had not changed their German management, they would certainly have lost our account," said Ralf Dielenschneider, manager of sales, research and marketing communications at VW. "But DDB became an entirely new agency."
VW chopped the pitch list from eight to four after the first round of presentations, then dropped two more-Leagas Delaney, London, and KNSK/ BBDO, Hamburg-leaving just DDB Needham and Saatchi & Saatchi.
In another complication, H. Dieter Dahlhoff, VW's marketing director and a DDB Needham fan, left the company after the review began and has not been replaced.
"DDB's chances didn't look too good after the second round, but they mobilized all their international resources and involved at least eight DDB offices," Mr. Dielenschneider said.