Volvo a brand challenge for Ford

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As Ford Motor Co. prepares to acquire the car business of Sweden's AB Volvo, it can tap into lessons about brand integration learned from its earlier purchase of Jaguar.

"This is really about brand management with a capital B," said James Hall, VP-industry analysis of consultancy AutoPacific. "Ford has to make sure the core attributes of Volvo don't get compromised."

The announcement last week of the $6.45 billion deal ended months of speculation about which partner Volvo would pick. Ford President-CEO Jacques Nasser said Volvo will be kept as a separate brand, and that there was no overlap of the Swedish brand with the U.S. car marketer's Aston Martin, Ford, Jaguar, Lincoln, Mazda or Mercury marques.


"Volvo is a premium brand and Volvo stands for different values and has a unique appeal," Mr. Nasser said. "Volvo is known for safety, durability, environmental responsibility and family values."

But there could be a togetherness when it comes to media clout. As with Jaguar Cars North America, Ford is expected to roll Volvo Cars of North America's U.S. media buying into its dedicated buying shop, Ford Motor Media, Detroit, a unit of Ford Division agency J. Walter Thompson Co. Ford said it's too early to discuss that.

Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmetterer/Euro RSCG, New York, handles Volvo's $85 million account in the U.S.

Except for Mazda agency Doner, Southfield, Mich., the bulk of Ford's brands are handled by agencies under either the WPP Group or Young & Rubicam umbrella.


Volvo spent about $240.7 million on advertising outside the U.S. In 1997, Volvo awarded Abbott Mead Vickers/ BBDO, London, strategy and print photography for its estimated $96 million global campaign for the new S-80 sedan. The ads broke last fall.

Messner Vetere created the TV commercial for that campaign.

Volvo earlier tapped Messner Vetere for its first global campaign, for the C70 coupe and convertible; the effort broke last spring.

Ford's $2.5 billion acquisition of England's Jaguar Cars Ltd. a decade ago gives the auto marketer a template for how to handle Volvo, Mr. Hall said.

Ford took its time on Jaguar, slowly improving its quality and only recently expanding its product lineup.

"But Ford will be under more pressure from Wall Street because they've done it right with Jaguar," predicted Mr. Hall. The general public will be more aware of Ford's handling of Volvo, he explained, because Volvo is more of a global brand and "more people understand what Volvo is about" vs. Jaguar in the late 1980s.

"Volvo probably has the clearest, most-defined image of any car in the world that sells in such low volume," said John Slaven, president of consultancy Slaven Marketing Services and who worked on Volvo as an agency executive. "Who wouldn't want that trademark image of the safest car in the world?"

Copyright January 1999, Crain Communications Inc.

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