Volkswagen Names Johannes Leonardo Lead Creative Agency in the U.S.

Decision followed internal WPP pitch

Blue and white Volkswagen rooftop signage
WPP's VW Partnership won the North American business in October. Hauke-Christian Dittrich/Getty Images
Headshot of Patrick Coffee

Less than three months after consolidating its North American marketing business with WPP’s VW Partnership, Volkswagen has named Johannes Leonardo lead brand agency in the United States. The agency will now be part of that team.

A Johannes Leonardo spokesperson confirmed that the decision followed a competitive pitch but declined to elaborate. According to additional parties with knowledge of the business, the review also involved Possible, which led the initial VW Partnership alongside David Miami, Geometry Global, Taxi and Hogarth.

Representatives for WPP, Possible and VW declined to comment beyond this morning’s statement.

The news also comes less than two weeks after both Campaign and AdAge reported that Johannes Leonardo bought back an unspecified portion of WPP’s 49 percent minority stake, which the holding group used to back Johannes Leonardo’s 2007 launch (principals Jan Jacobs and Leo Premutico were formerly executive creative directors at Saatchi & Saatchi).

Both companies have declined to comment on that matter.

According to the release, JL will serve as brand lead within the “agency powerhouse team built with holding group WPP,” with the latter’s specialist agencies handling work related to data, CRM, retail, web design and more.

Volkswagen Group of America CEO Scott Keogh called the move “a great opportunity for the brand” in a statement. “Teaming up with the best minds from Johannes Leonardo—and the creation of this U.S. powerhouse—transforms our marketing approach through a combination of creative excellence and data driven intelligence, and is a crucial step in ensuring our future success.”

“We are honored to be part of a team that will reclaim the soul and confidence of Volkswagen in order to inform a powerful future,” said Jan Jacobs, co-founder and chief creative officer at Johannes Leonardo.

Joe Crump, North American regional team lead for WPP and managing director of Possible New York, added: “Volkswagen has formed a world class team that brings together creative, data, and cutting-edge technology to shape their legendary brand in the US. We feel privileged to be on this mission for Volkswagen.”

Keogh arrived at VW from Audi last October weeks before the end of the North American review, which was itself part of a seven-month global pitch that pitted Omnicom, IPG, WPP and Cheil Worldwide against one another for regional work. He had previously served as chief marketing officer at Audi, where he helped redefine the brand in partnership with creative agency of record Venables Bell & Partners.

Kantar Media has VW spending $610 million in the U.S. in 2017 and $384 million from January through September of 2018, a decline from its $408 million total the previous year.

@PatrickCoffee Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.