VW's 'Fearless' Marketing Exec Kerri Martin Leaves Abruptly

Oversaw Account Move to Crispin and 'Safety Happens' Campaign

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DETROIT (AdAge.com) -- One of the auto industry's more high-profile female marketing executives, Kerri Martin, director-brand innovation of Volkswagen of America, left abruptly yesterday, the same day VW's parent announced one of her biggest supporters at the home office in Germany, Brand Chairman Wolfgang Bernhard, will depart at the end of the month.
Kerri Martin arrived at VW in spring 2004 from BMW's Mini USA brand, where she earned acclaim for the nontraditional and wildly successful re-entry of Mini to this country.
Kerri Martin arrived at VW in spring 2004 from BMW's Mini USA brand, where she earned acclaim for the nontraditional and wildly successful re-entry of Mini to this country.

Acclaim for Mini work
The 36-year-old Ms. Martin, known as a risk-taker, arrived at VW in spring 2004 from BMW's Mini USA brand, where she earned acclaim for the nontraditional and wildly successful re-entry of Mini to this country. Ms. Martin couldn't be reached for comment.

VW advertising under Ms. Martin has been handled by the automaker's agency, Crispin Porter & Bogusky, which she hired after firing the architect of the brand-unifying campaign "Drivers Wanted," Havas' Arnold, Boston, which had had the account for 10 years. That decision, and Crispin Porter's new work, stirred instant controversy and created buzz.

The work ranged from the "Get to Know Your Fast" and "Unpimp Mein Ride" ads for the GTI to the "Safety Happens" campaign for Jetta and Passat, which showed in very graphic terms what happens when those vehicles are involved in collisions with other cars. VW even went along with a suggestion from Crispin Porter, which had formerly handled Mini, to change the name of the Golf model to Rabbit, which launched last summer.

'Fearless'
"VW has always been at its best when we make people think," she told Advertising Age earlier this year. "We've always been fearless and not afraid to make a left when everyone is taking a right."

A spokesman for VW, said that although Mr. Bernhard was "absolutely a big supporter" of Ms. Martin, the two departures are a coincidence. He said the company has no successor in mind for Ms. Martin at this time.

But whoever succeeds her will have a big job as VW continues to struggle to return to profitability in the U.S. and tries to find its brand's soul after a series of wildly different ad campaigns that varied by model.

VW spent $192 million in measured media in the first nine months of 2006, according to TNS media Intelligence.
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