LOS ANGELES A new Kia Spectra commercial shows drivers creeping in a circle around a empty parking lot while music plays. The music stops, and the drivers race to the empty parking spots—it turns out it's a manic, motorized game of musical chairs.
Anyone following the automotive category of late might see the ad as a metaphor for its marketing ranks. In the past few months, top executives from Hyundai, Volkswagen, Volvo and Mercedes-Benz have moved on. And in the last two weeks, General Motors said goodbye to vp of marketing and advertising Mike A. Jackson; the newly purchased Chrysler parted ways with svp of global brand marketing George Murphy; and Toyota moved vp of marketing Jim Farley over to Lexus and brought in Randy Pflughaupt, vp of distribution operations, to take his place.
It's no secret that the average length of a CMO's tenure across corporate America has been dropping in recent years—down from 23.6 months in 2003 to 23.2 months in 2006, according to a Spencer Stuart study—as marketing execs operate under intensifying pressure and time constraints to satisfy impatient CEOs. And while those same factors are at work here, the auto industry is contending with challenges all its own.
Overall U.S. car sales were down 3 percent to 16.5 million vehicles in 2006, and they were flat the year before that, according to Car Concepts in Thousand Oaks, Calif. "Cars as a category are simply not as desirable as they used to be. And every car marketer is looking for a panacea," said Rob Schwartz, ecd at Omnicom Group's TBWA\Chiat\Day in Playa del Rey,Calif., which handles creative for Nissan and Infiniti.
"It's a tough job, CMO," said a top executive at an agency with a major car account. "Look at the constituencies and the stakeholders you have to please. And a lot of these guys don't have any relationship with the dealers."
Following is a snapshot of who's in, who's out and which companies are looking.
POSITION: vp of marketing
LASTHELD BY: Mark McNabb
EXIT DATE: March 2007
SEARCH STATUS: A couple of candidates, with a hire expected this month
Mercedes' search for a marketing chief comes as the company prepares for a global relaunch of its C-Class line in September and on the heels of a 1.1-point gain in domestic market share, to 12.8 percent at the end of last year, from 11.7 percent in 2005. In addition, U.S. sales have grown annually for 13 straight years. Turnover in the top marketing post, however, has been a problem. The new vp of marketing will be the fifth in eight years, after Ken Enders, Dave Schembri, Michelle Cervantez and Mark McNabb. Enders and Cervantez left the company, Schembri shifted to vp of Mercedes' Smart USA division, and McNabb in January shifted to vp of sales, only to leave for Nissan in March. In contrast, Mercedes' agency roster, led by Omnicom Group's Merkley + Partners in New York, has largely stayed the same. Other roster shops include Omnicom units PHD (media buying), Rapp Collins (direct marketing) and Footsteps (African-American ads). Omnicom also holds a 50 percent stake in Mercedes' interactive shop, Critical Mass. As for the search, a company rep said CEO Ernst Lieb is being thorough because "he's pretty determined to make sure he's sure." Until then, Lieb is overseeing marketing.
POSITION: vp of marketing
PREVIOUSLY HELD BY: Jim Farley, now group vp, general manager of Lexus
FILLED BY: Randy Pflughaupt, ex-vp of distribution operations
Toyota Motor Sales USA in Torrance, Calif., shook up its marketing ranks last week. Jim Farley, commonly credited with the successful launch of Toyota's youth-oriented Scion brand, ceded his vp of marketing title to Randy Pflughaupt, vp of distribution operations. Farley, who led Toyota marketing for just two years, moved up to group vp and general manager of Toyota's luxury division, Lexus.
Analysts and agency executives said Farley's stint made a positive mark on the Toyota brand. "Farley came up from the experimental lab of Toyota with some of the freshest innovative ideas for the brand," said Car Concepts' Turner. "He encouraged a lot of people to think less conservatively. Now the whole brand seems more youthful."
Kurt Ritter, CEO of Toyota's lead creative agency, Publicis Groupe's Saatchi & Saatchi in Torrance, said Farley had "a rare combination of guts, intelligence, savvy and dedication. He was not afraid to do something different and stray from conventions, and the work reflected that." (Toyota's broadcast and out-of-home media buying duties are with Zenith. Saatchi handles planning and all other buying.)
Observers generally said Pflughaupt's experience with dealers from his previous position should serve him well in his new job, but otherwise suggested he is largely an unknown entity. Ritter, who has had only a few encounters with Pflughaupt, called him "bright, decisive" and "a big-picture guy," and someone who would "put the dealer experience to good use."
POSITION: vp of marketing and advertising
LAST HELD BY: Mike A. Jackson
EXIT DATE: May 2007
SEARCH STATUS: Just beginning
Mike A. Jackson, who left General Motors' vp of marketing and advertising position just two weeks ago, joined the company in 2000 and was considered a rising star. He moved into the marketing slot in March 2006, having been general manager of the Western region sales division in Los Angeles. He was instrumental in shifting Saturn's creative account from Omnicom's Goodby, Silverstein & Partners to Interpublic's Deutsch/LA, which also won corporate warranty work and special projects for Chevrolet and OnStar during Jackson's tenure.
Mark LaNeve, vp of vehicle sales, service and marketing, will assume Jackson's duties for now, GM said. "I feel good about my time at GM. They welcomed fresh thinking," said Jackson.
What GM has not welcomed are the sales reports through April. Sales at Pontiac (creative at Publicis' Leo Burnett) were down 20 percent, according to Car Concepts; Buick (IPG's McCann Erickson) was down 31 percent; Chevy (IPG's Campbell-Ewald) down 6 percent; Cadillac down 8 percent and Hummer down 22 percent (both are with independent Modernista!). The good news? Sales at GMC (IPG's Lowe) were up 8 percent, and Saturn was up 20 percent.
Ford Motor Co.
POSITION: global CMO
LAST HELD BY: Hans-Olov Olsson
EXIT DATE: January 2007
SEARCH STATUS: Ongoing; unclear how far along
Even without a global CMO, Ford Motor Co. is said to be seeking a new corporate image campaign to succeed last year's "Bold Moves" effort, which was closely associated with then-CEO Bill Ford. With former Boeing chief Alan Mulally now in charge, the company is looking to redefine itself, at least in terms of its advertising, said sources. Ford, which last year spent $1.7 billion in major measured media, declined to comment on talk of a search to fill the CMO post that Hans-Olov Olsson vacated Jan. 1, when he retired. Olsson had held the post for a year. At the New York Auto Show in April, however, Mulally acknowledged that filling the role was something he was considering. Despite the buzz around the JWT-led "Bold Moves" campaign, domestic sales last year declined 8 percent to 2.91 million units. Other roster shops include WPP units Ogilvy & Mather (corporate image) and Young & Rubicam (Lincoln, Mercury, Land Rover), Havas' Euro RSCG (Jaguar), independent Doner (Mazda) and Havas' Arnold (which shares global duties with Nitro on Volvo). The WPP agencies working on Ford are based in Dearborn, Mich., and share space and resources under the banner of Team Detroit.
POSITION: Global brand manager
LASTHELD BY: George Murphy
EXIT DATE: May 31, 2007
SEARCH STATUS: Under review
Following private equity firm Cerberus' successful bid for Chrysler in May, George Murphy, svp and global brand manager, last week became one of the first executives to announce his departure. Murphy, who had held the position since 2001, made "key contributions to our efforts to retool our brands," Steven Landry, Chrysler's evp of sales and marketing, said in a statement. Former Chrysler marketing chief Bud Liebler, however, pointedly told Adweek sister magazine Brandweek that "Chrysler is now going to look for someone whom the dealers can trust and can work well with."
"At this point, since there is no one in the slot, Landry will take over Murphy's duties," said a Chrysler rep. "The decision on whether or not we'll replace that position is currently under review." Through April, Jeep sales were up 10 percent, but Dodge was down 3 percent. Chrysler itself was down 11 percent through that month. Omnicom's BBDO in Detroit is the lead creative agency for all three brands, though Jeep recently handed U.S. duties to sibling shop Cutwater. Media for all three brands is with Omnicom's PHD.
Volkswagen of America
PREVIOUSLY HELD BY: Kerri Martin
EXIT DATE: January 2007
SEARCH STATUS: Unclear
Volkswagen evp Adrian Hallmark has been acting CMO since Kerri Martin left in January. The company declined to say whether she is being replaced. Her reign was brief, having joined from BMW's Mini brand in April 2005, but it was long enough to shift creative duties from Havas' Arnold in Boston to MDC Partners' Crispin Porter + Bogusky in Miami; media buying is with WPP's Mediacom. As of April, at 57 percent up, the Rabbit is the only VW model selling better than last year. Todd Turner, principal analyst at Car Concepts, is a critic of the company's current marketing setup, saying H.C. Ferdinand K. Piech, chairman of the supervisory board, has been micromanaging from Wolfsburg, Germany, even asking for an end to the current "Three V-dubs for under 17 grand" campaign. He "wants [VW] to be seen as more upscale," he said. "With Volkswagen, the problem is that whenever they get in trouble here, Germany pulls their reins so hard the horse flips on its back." Hallmark has declined requests for interviews since taking his position. Overall, sales are down 6 percent through April, per Car Concepts.