VW in Play; Crispin Won't Defend


NEW YORK Volkswagen of America has placed its account in review and invited lead agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky, a unit of MDC Partners, to defend. Crispin said it would not participate.

VW spent $220 million in major measured media last year, per Nielsen. (That amount does not include spending in areas like digital or direct marketing.)

Consultancy Roth Associates here is overseeing the process, but principal Richard Roth could not be reached for comment. VW said it has not begun selecting pitch participants.

In declining to defend, Crispin issued this statement: "We have been privileged to have had the opportunity to work with Volkswagen for the past four years and are extremely proud of all that we have accomplished together. As a rule, we do not participate in reviews for current accounts and this will not be an exception. We wish VW the absolute best."

An agency rep said there would be no layoffs based on VW's impending departure, stressing that the shop would continue working for the client through year's end.

"Volkswagen has embarked on a mission to significantly grow our business here in this market. Our goal of rapidly increasing our volume in a mature market requires the Volkswagen brand to evolve into a more relevant mainstream choice," Tim Ellis, client vp, marketing, said in a statement. "The Volkswagen brand needs to inspire our base of enthusiasts as well as reach out and captivate those in mainstream America."

Ellis continued: "Therefore, we are reevaluating all areas of our business, and after careful considerations have decided to take the necessary steps to ensure we have the right agency partner in place."

In late 2007, Ellis succeeded Kerri Martin as head of VW's U.S. marketing. Earlier that year, Ellis, as Volvo's global advertising director, oversaw the review that resulted in splitting the Swedish automotive company's business between Havas' Arnold in Boston -- which worked on the VW business for 10 years before Crispin -- and Sapient's Nitro in London.

In September 2005, Martin, as the new director of brand innovation at VW, shifted the account without a review to Miami and Boulder, Colo.-based Crispin. Arnold had developed the iconic "Drivers wanted" positioning for the carmaker and helped spur a brand revival, though sales had slumped for several years before Martin tapped Crispin as Arnold's replacement.

Martin and Crispin had a history. In 2001, while at BMW, she hired the shop to introduce the Mini in the U.S. Four years later, the agency resigned the Mini business to take on VW. Martin resigned from VW after the departure of chairman Wolfgang Bernhard in January 2007. He had been among her strongest champions within the company, sources said. (Last week, Martin joined Coda Automotive as the first chief marketing officer at the maker of electric cars and batteries.)

Crispin's recent VW spots have featured a talking vintage Beetle with a German accent. Brooke Shields also starred in a push last year.

VW works with multiple agencies around the world, with legacy shop DDB, owned by Omnicom, handling the brand in Europe, New Zealand and Singapore.

Earlier this month, VW of America said July sales, bolstered by the government's "Cash for Clunkers" program, rose 0.7 percent, with the company selling 20,590 units.

This story updates an item posted on Aug. 17 with additiional details.