Hopes Campaign Will Build Buzz for GTI

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DETROIT (AdAge.com) -- A comely character named Helga and an icon representing “fast” are featured in Volkswagen of America’s first work from Crispin Porter & Bogusky, Miami. The full campaign will be unveiled at a press conference Feb. 16.

“The buzz around this car will be greater than the [sales] volume of the car,” predicted a VW spokesman, saying that GTI enthusiasts will generate word-of-mouth for the car, similar to the Beetle’s return launch in the late 1990s.

One leg of the estimated $30 million blitz introduces Helga, a lab-coat-wearing engineer with a German accent. Dubbed internally “Unpimp Mien Auto,” the push is aimed at conveying to tuners of Asian cars that the GTI has built-in Deutschland engineering, the spokesman said.

German heritage
The three spots with “Helga” are aimed at driving traffic to vw.com, where visitors can configure a GTI or add various VW-made accessories to customize the two-door performance car. Helga will appear in a short film on the site riding in the car’s passenger seat while talking about the car’s features. Out-of-home billboards will also use a sprinkling of German words to convey the car’s heritage.

The other part of the campaign from Crispin, which has built creative around brand icons such as Burger King’s king, utilizes a small black character with red eyes designed to epitomize “fast.” That new brand icon appears in three TV commercials running this week during the Winter Olympics broadcasts. The fast figurines are being given to GTI buyers -- and three are already being sold on eBay, apparently from VW dealers who received them as part of a promotional package, the spokesman said.

VW has created a microsite that dovetails with the car’s new icon at projectfast.com. “Phase One Beta” of the site featured a German-accented male narrator asking 11 multiple-choice questions about defining "fast" while a black mercury-looking blob undulated. Now in phase three, the blob morphs into the fast character as the same narrator explains how the GTI will “make your fast happy.” VW saw 40,000 people opt in after the first phase, a VW dealer said.

Martin's first move
The ad launch for the 200-horsepower car is the first with the imprint of Kerri Martin, director-brand innovation. In her former position as marketing communications manager of BMW’s Mini Cooper USA, she successfully introduced the small car’s U.S. re-entry with Crispin Porter, mostly with new marketing techniques. Ms. Martin helped persuade VW to oust Havas’ Arnold Worldwide, Boston, after a 10-year run and hire Crispin Porter without a review. The shop took over the account in December.

The GTI, which first arrived in the U.S. in 1983 as the Rabbit GTI, created the segment of performance hatchbacks. But today there are other stiff competitors, including the Mini Cooper S and Honda Civic Si. VW sold 6,500 GTIs last year and expects to sell about 16,000 to 18,000 this year, the spokesman said.

The GTI is a low-volume performance model aimed at younger males that starts at $21,990. But VW, which has been struggling with quality issues and declining U.S. vehicle sales partly due to a misguided move up market, hopes the blitz will put a halo over the entire brand.

Of the $249 million VW spent in measured media during the first 10 months of 2005, none was spent on the GTI, according to TNS Media Intelligence.

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