VOLVO PUSHES PLAN TO INTEGRATE ADS AT REGIONAL LEVEL -- STRATEGY SPURS DEALER GROUPS TO USE MESSNER IN TACTICAL EFFORT

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Volvo of North America wants to unify its brand message at the regional level, and has begun planning all advertising via its national agency.

Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmetterer/Euro RSCG, New York, will establish a subsidiary to handle the regional work, said Mark LaNeve, VP-marketing at Volvo.

The regional effort "is going to be a very focused, tactical program linked very strongly to our national brand campaign," he said.

Mr. LaNeve is meeting with dealers across the country to explain Volvo's ad strategy.

Most dealer groups use Messner Vetere now for creative but use local media buyers, said Mr. LaNeve, and this move will only affect four or five dealer groups.

The plan would give the agency an estimated $20 million more in regional dealer spending.

S80 INTRO

The program is scheduled to start Jan. 1, but Volvo wants to get major-market dealer groups on board for the mid-October launch of the S80 sedan, dealers said.

Volvo is trying to enhance its ironclad image for safety by adding performance and styling to the marque's message.

The move to put as much advertising under the same agency umbrella as possible is an industry trend. Until joining Volvo last fall, Mr. LaNeve was a brand manager at General Motors Corp., which has trimmed its regional agency rosters significantly.

Not all Volvo's 347 North American dealers are in regional ad associations. Outside the major markets, each area has only one or two dealers that generally advertise individually, dealers report. Individual dealers tend to spend $100,000 to $200,000 annually in measured media, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

Phelps Group, Santa Monica, Calif., handles Volvo dealers in southern California, and agency CEO Joe Phelps said he was unaware of any planned changes to the current system.

$15 MIL DEALER SPENDING

Most of the 20 U.S. dealer groups are in markets with larger numbers of Volvo retailers, said Bob Austin, director of marketing communications at the marketer. Those groups spend about $15 million annually total.

In markets with one or two dealers, Volvo "can probably add to their presence" with the new plan, he added.

An East Coast dealer in a regional ad group, who asked not to be named, said everyone in his association contributes $300 per car delivered by Volvo into the ad fund.

Volvo wants to charge dealers a percentage of the suggested retail price for regional ads, a typical industry practice.

"It's a very good idea to do that because it's more fair. Everyone is paying," the dealer added. But he lamented that the dealers may lose some control as clients.

`LESS THAN ENTHUSIASTIC'

Loren Sheffer, a dealer in Del Rey, Fla., who doesn't belong to a regional group, predicted the dealer body would be "less than enthusiastic" about the plan due to their entrepreneurial nature. But in the long run, he predicted the change would benefit dealers.

"Brand image has the key role, and if it's enhanced, the value of the franchise increases and helps dealers," he said.

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