Volvo set to tap Messner Vetere as its Euro shop

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Volvo Car Corp. is on the verge of awarding its $50 million pan-European advertising account to Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmetterer/Euro RSCG as it looks to develop a more unified presence in the world's largest markets.

The switch is contingent on a contract being hammered out, and could be announced as early as this week. It would give Messner Vetere, which currently has only a New York office, lead global creative responsibility for the Swedish carmaker's account.

VOLVO BILLINGS TOP $150 MIL

Messner Vetere already handles North America, while other Euro RSCG agencies handle the account in Australia and parts of Asia. The win will raise Messner Vetere's Volvo billings to more than $150 million.

The pan-European account came up for grabs in April when the independent agency Forsman & Bodenfors, Gothenburg, Sweden, resigned the business to concentrate on its work for Volvo in Sweden.

CONVINCING ARGUMENT

Volvo at first contacted Leagas Delaney, London; and Wieden & Kennedy and 180, both Amsterdam, about pitching the account. It asked Messner Vetere, which has handled Volvo's North American account since 1991, to give only an informational presentation, according to one executive close to the situation.

But while Volvo initially wanted a European agency, Messner Vetere apparently convinced the marketer it could do the job and would open service offices in Brussels and elsewhere in Europe.

The offices will be staffed by people hired in Europe as well as executives who have worked on the Volvo account in Messner Vetere's New York office. They could be open as early as fall and likely would be part of Fuel, the marketing services operation Messner Vetere created two years ago for Volvo.

Messner Vetere's U.S. track record likely factored into the win; Volvo sold a record 116,691 cars in the U.S. last year, up 15.3%.

Euro RSCG agencies in Europe do work for Peugeot, which is why Messner Vetere rather than a sibling shop in the network went after the pan-European Volvo account.

OTHER DUTIES MAY BE ADDED

It's not clear what other countries Messner Vetere will pick up responsibility for as a result of the switch, but the pan-European account is likely to be expanded. That means Messner Vetere would pick up duties from other Volvo agencies, including BBDO Worldwide, which handles the account in the U.K., Israel, Belgium and Hungary; and Grey Global Group-owned Dorland, Berlin, which handles Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

Messner Vetere CEO Ron Berger said only that his agency was invited to participate in a review and is in discussions with Volvo. He declined further comment.

Messner Vetere "is certainly being considered" for the pan-European account, said Mark LaNeve, named president of Volvo Cars of North America on June 30, from VP-marketing. But Mr. LaNeve added that a final decision hasn't been made.

GLOBAL WORK

Messner Vetere has worked on several global campaigns for Volvo. It handled the all-print worldwide launch of the C70 coupe and convertible in spring 1998. The agency tapped fashion/celebrity photographer Albert Watson to give the ads a more emotional, contemporary feel. The brand was starting a quest for younger buyers, so it began moving away from its boxy-looking cars and entrenched safety positioning to be hipper.

In fall 1998, Messner Vetere created TV spots for the global launch of the S80 sedan. Abbott Mead Vickers/BBDO, London, plotted strategy and created global print ads.

Earlier this year, Volvo and Forsman broke a pan-European blitz for the redesigned V70 wagon. Forsman's TV spot for the V40 wagon is due to expand from Sweden to the rest of Europe this summer.

Volvo's media buying in the U.S. is handled by dedicated J. Walter Thompson Co. unit Ford Motor Media, Detroit. Overseas, WPP Group's MindShare, Frankfurt, handles buying.

Contributing: Bill Britt

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