The day Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia died in 1995, shortly after the Boston agency had landed the account, two Arnold creatives got the idea for the crying VW bus ad in tribute to the legendary performer while waiting in an airport. They sketched it on a bar napkin, faxed it to an account exec in Arnold's Boston office, who faxed it to VW's head of sales and marketing. He gave the OK from Europe, where he too was stuck in an airport.
A print ad was approved within 12 hours, produced within 48 hours, and was placed in the next issues of Rolling Stone and Entertainment Weekly.
"That ad probably cost $10,000 to do, and it created tens of millions of dollars in positive brand equity. With many clients, you end up presenting the work four, five, six times, and it squeezes the life out of the work," says Fran Kelly, president chief operating officer at Arnold.
Arnold had had the Volkswagen account for just a few months when that ad appeared, but the streamlined process that was used then is still evident in the agency-client relationship, which could be a model for carmaker-agency relations. Arnold has repaid VW for its lack of bureaucracy by helping stabilize the German automaker and quadrupling domestic market share from 1% to 4%.
In 1994, the marketer spent just $70.5 million in measured media, but industry executives estimate it now exceeds $200 million.
Frank Maguire, VP-sales and marketing at Volkswagen, says he got one of the best endorsements of his brand's advertising while sitting in a chair lift during a ski trip in the Pocono Mountains last month. His companions in the quad chair were three twentysomething males. When the topic turned to jobs and Mr. Maguire said he worked for VW, the young men raved about the brand's trio of Super Bowl commercials created by Arnold.
Mr. Maguire, one of two key players who have changed at VW in recent months, succeeds David Huyett, who retired last fall as VP-marketing. VW consolidated sales and marketing under Mr. Maguire, formerly just VP-sales. Liz Vanzura, advertising director, also resigned in late December.
The VW team attends internal business meetings in Detroit and in Germany, and is in the Motor City once or twice a week. When the process starts for new advertising, VW tells the agency about the specific model, how it's positioned and what the campaign needs to achieve, says Karen Swartz, marketing-advertising manager at VW for the past year and a half. They also discuss strategy for the upcoming year-what models have to be pushed and where resources need to be allocated.
Mr. Kelly says VW, its largest client, doesn't have focus groups vet the work, nor does it exercise veto power just because older executives don't get it, such as when "Synchronicity" was presented. (The ad showed a couple riding through the rainy streets of New Orleans in a Jetta, gradually realizing every activity around them is in sync with the CD they've just started.)
DEVELOPING A FEEL
Although the strategy hasn't changed in six years, the creative work has. Arnold Chairman-Chief Creative Officer Ron Lawner says the first 24 months were dedicated to establish a feel for the brand before the quirky "Synchronicity" and "Da Da Da" spots could roll.
"We had to set the stage for what this brand stood for. We worked a little slowly so people would get it," Mr. Lawner says. "We had a lot of thoughts in 1995, but it wasn't right to do it yet."
Executions have included frenetic waitresses, a moonlit drive and a GTI stuck in a tree.
Mr. Maguire admits not everyone "gets" the Super Bowl spots for the GTI, the high-performance Golf model.
"People who don't drive a stick don't get the ads," he says. "We're not for everybody."