Top Execs Answer Auto Marketing's Biggest Questions

Leaders From Five of the Industry's Biggest Brands on Selling in Recession, Global Strategy and What's to Come

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NEW YORK ( -- In and around last week's New York International Auto Show, Ad Age got in front of marketing leaders at some of the world's major car brands, including Jim Farley, group VP-global marketing and Canada, Mexico and South America operations, Ford Motor Co.; Scott Keogh, CMO, Audi of America; Chris Perry, director-marketing and acting head of marketing, Hyundai Motor America; John Maloney, VP-marketing and product planning, Volvo Cars of North America; and Jack Pitney, VP-marketing, BMW of North America. We asked them how they intend to market through the economic recovery, how they are evolving their global-marketing strategies and what's yet to come.

What is your coming-out-of recession strategy?

MR. KEOGH: The most important thing for us was not to blink, not to hit the brakes and to keep our marketing, keep our product-development efforts firmly planted on the gas pedal. And the truth of the matter is, it's worked. When you go into recession marketing, you panic, you hide under a table and customers don't see you. And we wanted to be seen, we wanted to be confident; particularly in the luxury market, people buy confidence.

MR. PERRY: Last year we were in a different situation economically and as a brand. This year we are seeing an economic upturn, and [the Hyundai Assurance program] is still going to be a part of that, but we will shift our focus more on new products. We look at our strategy that's in place now, the tonality and consumer-centric nature that we started back in 2007, and believe it's worked well for us and don't see any reason to change it.

MR. MALONEY: In the U.S. for Volvo, we've been up every single month since June of last year. And it's really on the heels of a great product [the S60]. This product hit the market a year ago. We can't get them fast enough. ... Dealers aren't discounting. That, coupled with a [maintenance] program we introduced in the U.S. ... that really was a tactic that we took because we knew that even affluent people were trying to manage their expenses.

MR. PITNEY: We're real believers in that it's the product that actually has brought us success, and even throughout the entire global recession where we were trimming back on all sorts of different areas -- I think all companies were -- the one thing that we never touched was the product development and the research and development. ... In this year alone, we're going to have 19 new models coming to market.

MR. FARLEY: We need to find a way like we did with the Fiesta Movement to get communities to reconnect with their local dealers. ... We've been doing a little program that's not so little called "Drive for Your School." Schools are struggling now, and the dealer is setting up test drives that benefit the school financially. The emotional feedback we're getting from that ... is something that can differentiate my brand.

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How is your global marketing strategy evolving?

MR. KEOGH: Audi has different strengths and different attitudes in different markets. We're the No. 1 luxury brand in Europe, the No. 1 luxury brand in China, so this is an absolute leadership brand that is obviously very successful. In America, we take on much more of a challenger attitude. There is the 'Big Three,' Lexus, BMW and Mercedes, and we have to challenge that traditional dogma that those are the only brands that people need to be looking at. They need to be looking at Audi.

MR. PERRY: We are looking to make sure we maintain a global brand strategy that's adaptable on a regional basis. Our market situation here is different than it is in Korea, where they have close to 50% share of the market, while we have 5% here, so we have to approach it a little bit differently. But having a common set of brand goals is something we are working on and will continue to work on.

MR. MALONEY: I don't think our global marketing strategy will change at all. The brand, what it stands for, at the top of our pyramid, of course, is safety leadership, environmental responsibility and modern Scandinavian design. That's what Volvo stands for today, that's what Volvo's going to stand for in the future. What we are trying to do and have been trying to do the last couple years is to say, not only is Volvo a great safety brand, which it is, and none of those things have gone away, but it's also a great modern design and really fun to drive.

MR. PITNEY: The [new] "Joy" campaign is a global campaign, and I'm proud to say our agency, GSD&M, pitched and won the global BMW business. This is the first time that BMW has had one agency on a global level. ... The "Joy" campaign debuted first in Germany, then it rolled out in the U.K., and it rolled out in France. It rolled out in Italy before it ever was introduced in the U.S. because we wanted to wait for a big platform and we thought the Olympics was a great opportunity for us. But this campaign has been all around the world and not just in the U.S. and Europe; I've seen executions that ran in Thailand and China, and it's remarkable how this very emotional concept of joy really seems to break through. On a global level as well as in the U.S., we're trying to make BMW a warmer, more accessible brand.

MR. FARLEY: We're involving the marketing teams around the world. Because media's getting so much more interesting and being consumed so differently, we've got to minimize our production costs. One of the key outcomes of collaboration is to reduce the production costs, and we can reinvest that into better content, especially online.

From a global standpoint, it's all opportunity. The Focus is our first true global product. We used to have several Focuses, and they were all different regionally and we used to run 25 different big ad campaigns. By being inclusive with the regional marketing teams, we now are managing the complexity of assets and content.

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What new opportunities and contexts exist for auto marketing?

MR. KEOGH: I don't want to tell you too much on this one because we want to keep some surprises out there in the marketplace, but there are two things you look at: There's existing marketing platforms that we can jump in on -- you've seen this with the Super Bowl, certainly with the Olympics. There are other things that aren't natural marketing platforms but they're events where America is watching, America is involved. And these are things we're continually looking for. The next big product launch we're working on is going to be the all-new A8. We have some great ideas for that.

MR. PERRY: We need to get more involved in social media because it allows us to talk to consumers more about our brands and less about our products. We have more work to do and investment to be made in our digital strategy, making sure that our tier-one, tier-two and tier-three websites align and provide a common and seamless experience for our consumer.

We have tried to put a flag in the sand with our general-market push over the last couple of years, but we are going to need to change that and do more multicultural.

MR. PITNEY: We're real believers in experiential marketing, having people interact with our brand in interesting ways. In the end, if we can get someone to drive a BMW they will buy a BMW. So we're really looking for ways to get somebody behind the wheel. I also think that the internet has taken on much greater importance. For years it was viewed more as a Yellow Pages-type approach, very lower-funnel-purchase orientation, but actually the brands that can help build the brand online, use it as a branding platform as well, it's a real opportunity.

MR. FARLEY: For [us], the dealership experience is going to be a really key new area of marketing. And by experience, I mean not just how you treat people during the car-buying experience. I learned something last year that I never learned before as a marketer: Let go of your brand. Let others talk about your brand for you. That's why we made such a progressive investment in social media and mainstream PR. But it goes further than that. When we did our tier-three ads and the dealers talked about our brand, it was one of the coolest days I've had in the industry. Our dealers told a story of our local community -- some have been there for about 100 years. I can't tell that story.

Two, it's mobile. Smartphones are getting to a point where we have to seriously take this as an opportunity just as other industries have. ... [Mobile is] not the same around the world: In India mobile usage is enormous, like, say, Finland, but they don't have smartphones. But smartphones in developing countries have grown really quickly, and that is a platform that our industry has almost ignored.

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Contributing: Abbey Klaassen

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