VW Ditches Multi-Message Tack

Adopts Uniform Voice to Drive Home Point: It's What the People Want

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Volkswagen of America is abandoning its strategy of running multiple brand messages and is instead moving to a uniform one that will be integrated into all media for all models.
Heidi Meets Max: Will the 1964 Beetle become 'the new, lovable brand icon'?
Heidi Meets Max: Will the 1964 Beetle become 'the new, lovable brand icon'?

Tim Ellis, who joined VW in December as VP-marketing, said that using a single ad platform is a smart economic move since VW doesn't spend as heavily as many competitors. "So our voice has to be stronger when we communicate," said Mr. Ellis.

Kerri Martin
The VW brand spent $170 million in measured media last year, according to TNS Media Intelligence, via Crispin, Porter & Bogusky, Miami, which created some of the most talked-about car ads for VW in 2006 and 2007. Among them were "Safety Happens," "Get to Know Your Fast," "Unpimp Mein Auto" and "Low-Ego Emissions." All those disparate approaches were created under the baton of Kerri Martin, director-brand innovation at VW, who left the automaker abruptly in January 2007 after less than three years. Her position hasn't been filled.

Crispin's new work features a 1964 black classic Beetle named Max that will appear in all the communications and will become "the new, lovable brand icon" and "the glue of the campaign," Mr. Ellis told Advertising Age. The campaign adopts the global ad tag "Das Auto," which first broke in VW's home market of Germany last fall, but the marketer has added "What the People Want" for U.S. ads to make the brand more consumer-centric.

While Mr. Ellis said he would hesitate to call past executions failures due to their high impact, he said VW's ads need a "coherent brand promise."

Two auto experts gave VW high marks for the new work. Charlie Hughes, a former auto executive and founder of consultant BrandRules, said VW is clever in using an old Beetle. The problem with VW in recent years is its ads have been all over the map, he said.

'Embracing the past'
Todd Turner, president of consultant CarConcepts, also saluted VW for "embracing the past and their heritage and capitalizing on the good feelings and emotional connection people have with the brand because of the Beetle."

So far this year, VW has relied on "Sign and Drive" TV commercials from Crispin, Porter that aired only at the regional dealer ad level, said Mr. Ellis. He called that campaign "very successful," as VW is one of the few carmakers to post an increase in new-vehicle sales so far this year–the industry's worst in a decade.

VW sold 50,554 vehicles in the U.S. from January through March, a 0.4% jump vs. the year-ago period; in March its sales rose nearly 13% to 19,587 units.

Mr. Turner, however, pointed out that it was an easy comparison since VW suffered big first-quarter sales drops in calendar 2007 vs. 2006.

Mr. Ellis said VW had no model launches in 2007, but the new work will help the automaker reach its goal of quadrupling U.S. sales over the next decade. "What VW has done well over the years is create a very clear brand personality that appealed to a younger audience," he said. "We have to retain that base but also we need to grow that base."
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