How Jaguar Is Rekindling Its Coolness by Embracing Its Sleek British Roots

Adweek’s 2015 Brand Genius winner for automotive

When Kim McCullough was a kid, she’d spend her allowance on Matchbox cars and watch in awe as her father, an advertising executive at the legendary DDB, would drive home in a succession of Porsches, Audis, Volkswagens and other client rides.

"The love of cars seems to be part of my genetic makeup," she said. "From as early as I can recall, I just thought they were so cool."

No surprise, then, that McCullough has been in the automotive business for more than 20 years, and with her latest job comes perhaps one of her greatest challenges. As vice president, marketing for Jaguar Land Rover North America, she’ll be launching a flurry of new models over the coming months, with the goal of tripling the nameplate’s volume by next year.

McCullough, a New York native, added Jaguar to her oversight of Land Rover about a year ago and inherited a hugely successful first-time Super Bowl campaign for the luxury brand, dubbed "Good to Be Bad," that she called "a risky move" and "a big statement."

 Nicholas Hoult in "British Intelligence"

"Jaguar had fallen off the radar for a generation of car buyers, and it was very important to raise the profile," she says of the $25 million-plus campaign that introduced the F-Type Coupe. "It was the beginning of a complete brand transformation."

"Good to be bad," which became the most-used hashtag during the game, featured actors Ben Kingsley, Mark Strong and Tom Hiddleston doing their most magnetic and cheeky British villain patter.

Aside from the popular Tom Hooper-directed TV spot, the Jaguar team created a rapid-response war room, where its real-time marketing and not-so-subtle digs at competitors boosted the brand’s media exposure, talk value and consumer engagement.

Other highlights: wrapping New York’s F-train with slick photos of the car and the message, "Our F is a tad faster," and linking with Gawker Media’s content studio for a Good To Be Bad blog.

Executives at in-house creative agency Spark44, working with Mindshare, say the campaign aimed for "charming and sophisticated with an intriguing dark edge," and was meant to dispell the idea that Jaguar is "an expensive old man’s car with questionable reliability."

Intended to be "an opening salvo," McCullough said, "British Villains" evolved into "British Intelligence," a James Bond-flavored marketing wave that positioned Jaguar as a technologically advanced brand. It included TV spots, online videos and print ads that linked to digital content via the Blippar app for Google Glass and mobile devices.

Jaguar, which also kicked off a new maintenance and warranty program, started to ditch its stodgy image and feel "more modern," McCullough said. "We’ll keep building on that wave."

Several model launches include the XE compact sedan—the first $35,000 car in the line, set to compete with mid-priced entries from Mercedes-Benz and BMW—and the F-Pace, Jaguar’s first SUV.

New XE model

McCullough says she’s being "ruthless in making sure our communications are staying in the right tone and voice" so the brands are well defined. She loves experiential marketing and the one-to-one conversations afforded by digital outreach, though she’s committed to a TV-heavy plan for Jaguar because of its "challenger position."

Joe Eberhardt, president and CEO, Jaguar Land Rover North America, calls her marketing approach "cohesive, smart, efficient and true to each brand," and Karen Bennett, managing director at Mindshare, says she "looks for a balance between the known and the unknown."

Ever the enthusiast, McCullough even spends her vacation behind the wheel. She and her husband, Mitch, recently drove in the famous vintage rally Mille Miglia, topping 100 mph through Italy’s back roads. It was a bucket list item, she says, checked off in her 1954 Jaguar XK 120, part of her car collection housed in a custom-built garage at her New Jersey home.

"They’re the life-sized versions of Matchbox," she says.

This story first appeared in the Oct. 19 issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.