Said Volkswagen director of marketing David Schembri, "The team Andy Berlin has put together for VW is a dream team, and we couldn't be happier with the way the rollout is starting."
Though Schembri describes the plan as "totally a Volkswagen idea," the slow regional introduction appears to come off a page from Saturn's playbook. As designed by Volkswagen's U.S. chief Tom Shaver, one of Saturn's original marketers, the rollout begins a reshaping of VW's brand image in the U.S., and, if successful, may secure DDB Needham's reputation, which has been under attack from dealers and VW starlets for several years.
Monitoring the San Diego new car rollout with Volkswagen will be J.D. Power & Associates.
DDB Needham has been under intense pressure on one of its signature accounts. Though Schembri said he couldn't speak for Volkswagen AG chairman Ferdinand Piech, sources said last week the latest DDB effort was well received on April 23 by the recently appointed Volkswagen chief, who is crucial to the ultimate fate of the agency on the account.
While the agency has gotten some breathing space, one source said, it knows that the heat has not been totally turned off as DDB Needham is working with a new slate of client executives with little emotional ties to the legacy of DDB and VW.
Some 400 of the new Mexican-built cars are being delivered to consumers in San Diego this week, at least half of which will be birddogged by VW and Power to find any niggling defects in the models that can be fixed before too many get on the road. They will also ask track owner reaction to both product and marketing efforts.
The San Diego introduction will be followed by a methodical region-by-region rollout beginning in California, with ads being reshaped for each market based research and consumer reaction. And to turbocharge VW's comparatively small media budget this year--estimated to be $80-100 million--the company will offer the most aggressive incentives in the industry--a 10-year/100,000-mile warranty, a $189 lease, two years of free maintenance and six-year corrosion protection.
Though VW management is high on the new Jetta and Golf, which, by the time they are nationally available, will be nearly a year late leaving the gate, analysts and dealers said that all the cars can do, at best, is begin a trickle of showroom traffic that has been all but invisible for a year.
"VW has fallen so far that these cars can, at best, be called a beginning to getting us back to a competitive level," said Daniel McKenna III, a Huntington Beach, Calif., dealer who was VW's biggest in the U.S. last year. "I haven't taken a full truck-load of cars in over a year . . . because I haven't needed that many at any one time."
Last year, Volkswagen posted just 75,000 in unit sales, down from 144,000 in 1988.
Shaver came to the struggling German automaker last year after running consumer marketing at Saturn Corp. There, he had the luxury of a fat budget and a clean sheet of paper to reinvent the notion of an American car company. He and the rest of the Saturn team also had Hal Riney & Partners, an agency-client relationship that has fast become the envy and model of the industry.
DDB Needham, which was fired off Volkswagen's Audi division account last month, has felt the heat on the VW account since Shaver's arrival. To parallel Shaver's appointment, DDB last fall named Andy Berlin, president of the agency's New York office, head of the North American VW account. It was no coincidence that Berlin had worked at Shaver's old Saturn agency (though before Saturn was a client) and is close to Hal Riney himself.
Copyright Adweek L.P. (1993)