Jochen Sengpiehl, global chief marketing officer for Volkswagen's namesake brand, surprised many people in the automotive and ad agency industries last week when announcing that VW would undertake a global creative agency review. Days later, Ford confirmed it was launching its own global creative review, putting WPP's long-running account at risk, meaning two coveted auto brands are up for grabs.
VW's review is a pretty big deal on its own: With 7 percent international market share, VW is the world's second-largest auto brand behind Toyota (9 percent share), according to IHS Markit. And while the brand is smaller in the U.S—at a 1.9 percent share—it has been a major cultural force with a history of groundbreaking ads dating back to the 1960s when Doyle Dane Bernbach won plaudits for an anti-establishment approach and classic copy lines like "Lemon" and "Think Small."
Today VW is handled by Interpublic's Deutsch, which will likely have to fend of a strong charge from Omnicom, whose DDB handles major portions of the VW business in Europe and Canada. Other holding companies will surely jump in here and across the globe.
Ford's review ocmplicates things for WPP. If the holding company jumps in on VW, it risks angering Ford; then again, it could also hedge its bets against losing Ford. Other holding companies would also have to deal with potential conflicts. Publicis, for instance, recently won the Mercedes-Benz account covering 40 markets worldwide, opening a dedicated group called Emil to handle it. As for VW, Sengpiehl says he is not concerned about conflicts. "We cannot expect from someone that they are only working 100% exclusively with us," he says. "We have very, very strict firewalls and requirements by procurement."
Ad Age recently caught up with him to learn more about what he is looking for and how he wants to evolve VW's marketing.
Who is invited?
This is a holding company level review. Sengpiehl wants to form a single agency hub in five regions: North America, Europe, Asia, South America and a catch-all that he described as "other markets." When asked who VW will reach out to, he rattled off major holding companies including Omnicom, WPP, Publicis, Interpublic, Havas and Dentsu. Global consultancy Roland Berger is assisting with the process, he says. Other agencies worth watching include MDC Partners-owned Anomaly and independent Wieden & Kennedy.
So only big agencies can play?
Not necessarily. Sengpiehl says he is not locked into picking one holding company per region. For instance, one holding company could hypothetically control 70 percent of the work, with outside shops handling the rest. He referred to this 30 percent as "local heros," which could signify an openness to involving smaller shops.