The people's car could use a little love. Last month, Volkswagen announced that 2003 group profit will be "markedly" below 2002. Sales for Europe's largest carmaker are also down as key models age and high marketing costs loom with the launch of the next generation of core models such as the Golf. And management has been reshuffled both at the company's German headquarters and DDB Berlin, the agency for its key home market.
Joern Hinrichs, Wolfsburg-based executive director of Volkswagen marketing, said consumers relate to the brand for rational reasons such as quality and reliability. But behind those values should lie strong emotions.
"There was a lack of awakening of the emotional possibilities," in Volkswagen marketing, he said.
The effort kicked off in Germany with a 20-page newspaper and magazine insert and a TV campaign earlier this month.
Double-page spreads feature a love poem with a paragraph explaining the feelings the featured Volkswagen represents.
One, from a student to his girlfriend, is paired with a soft-focus photo of the lower half of a VW Beetle in a field. The campaign's international tagline is: "The love of the automobile."
Other poems are matched with the Passat, the off-road Touareg, the luxury Phaeton, and the Polo, Golf, Lupo and Roadster. Two poems were written under a pen name by DDB Group Germany's new chief creative officer, Amir Kassaei.
Local Volkswagen marketing executives will decide whether to use the love-poem campaign and slogan in their ads. "We believe that this campaign is one we are going to use throughout the world," Mr. Hinrichs said. "But this is not going to be done by force. This is going to be done by convincing. What we do think is that Volkswagen should have one claim around the world."
He said there is a "big chance" it will run in the U.S., where Havas' Arnold Worldwide Partners, Boston, handles Volkswagen.
The carmaker spends $460 million of its $1.6 billion global ad budget in the U.S., where the company's sales fell by 13.9% for the first eight months of 2003.
The image campaign breaks as Volkswagen faces changes. Under Chairman Ferdinand Piech, formerly CEO, Volkswagen brands shared similar car platforms and some components to reduce costs.
But consumers realized they could get Volkswagen quality for the price of a Skoda, and Volkswagen's move upmarket encroached on sibling brand Audi's turf.
Since Bernd Pischetsrieder became CEO in April 2002, he has divided Volkswagen into two camps: the sporty group, including Audi, Seat, Lamborghini and Bugatti, and the "conservative" brands VW, Skoda and Bentley.