Every agency wants a car account. They often mean big bucks, big budgets and big prestige. And the import auto category boasts some of the best advertising a" data-categories = "" data-popup = "" data-ads = "Yes" data-company = "[]" data-outstream = "yes" data-auth = "" >

Import cars: driven by passion and romance By Ann Coope

Every agency wants a car account. They often mean big bucks, big budgets and big prestige. And the import auto category boasts some of the best advertising a

When Ross Sutherland, a jovial renegade New Zealander, was misspending his youth in the country’s South Island, where the roads are filled with British Humbers, Hillmans, Rovers and Sunbeams, he dreamed of owning a Jaguar. “Like all small boys fascinated with cars, the idea of a Jaguar was particularly intoxicating,” he says. “There were very few people in New Zealand who could afford them so they always stuck out. And they were the best crumpet-attracting cars,” he adds, using the British colloquialism for sweet young things.
It wasn’t until 1985 that he was able to acquire his first, an XJS, “despite everyone’s advice” not to succumb. “It was a combination of the leather,” he recalls, “the intimate cockpit and the fact that no car handles like a Jaguar.” He bought his second, an XJ6, in 1990. So when this Ogilvy & Mather/New York executive creative director got the chance to pitch the car’s advertising account last year, his first thought was, “Oh good, I’ll get another one free.”
But his second thought was that, having owned two Jaguars, he understood the car’s pros and cons. And he desperately wanted people to believe in the car again. “There’s the age old argument that anyone who buys a Jaguar is an idiot,” he says. “But if you drive a Jaguar you fall in love with it. You get immersed in the car and its whole history. And having spent a lot of my own money on the car, I thought I’d have a lot better idea of how to advertise them than anyone else.”
Ford, which bought Jaguar Cars in 1989, was looking for a better idea. The American car giant realized it had just spent almost $3 billion on a rundown, money-losing company that was producing aging models with chronic quality problems. The first step was to address the problems with the cars themselves. Next the company needed a marketing partner to convey to the world that Jaguar was not only still alive and purring, but had undergone significant product changes.
Enter Ogilvy & Mather’s Sutherland, creative head Bill Hamilton, and ceo Charlotte Beers. They were all itching to get their hands on the account. “It was vital for Charlotte,” says Sutherland. “It was the first wildly public search for an agency. To lose it would have set her back. And it was vital to the agency. People thought we were on the list only because we were a Ford agency. Bill wanted it badly and I wanted it badly to prove we could do great creative.”
Moreover the car and the agency seemed a natural match. Both were once-proud brand names, reeking of British heritage, class and style, which had fallen on hard times. And they were both determined to redefine themselves via new management, fresh thinking and improved quality. That passion was evident at the first presentation, held in O&M’s cavernous stone lobby (“Looks like bloody Lenin’s Tomb,” harrumphs Sutherland) on the gamey New York corner of 49th Street and Eighth Avenue. Beers and Sutherland not only showed up in Jaguars of their own, but Sutherland had rounded up numerous vintage models, only two of which would fit through the doors.
From the beginning Jaguar had stipulated no speculative creative work. “They wanted a partner that would help them back on their feet,” says Sutherland. “Jaguar figured the car would do its own advertising. It was deeper than creative. They were looking for a marketing partner.” But Sutherland says he cheated anyway, creating a three-minute film designed to show that the agency understood the marketing issues. The key was the music, an obscure rendition of “At Last” by the almost forgotten blues singer Etta James. Suggested at an early strategy meeting by associate creative director David Apicella, the haunting and evocative tune was to set the tone for the future TV campaign.
The Jaguar pitch was a good test of the chemistry of the “new” O&M. “Bill & Charlotte get on famously,” says one source. “And both Bill and Ross love women.” (At one pre-presentation meeting, Sutherland suggested that Beers, famous for having once dismantled and then reassembled a complicated Sears drill in front of a roomful of men, might do the same thing with a Jaguar car. “Very droll, Mr. Sutherland,” came her crisp reply.) The piece de resistance was David Ogilvy, who just happened to be in town. Introduced to the assembled Jaguar clients as Sutherland’s copywriter, Ogilvy took the Jaguar people up to his office on the 11th floor (affectionately referred to as the Elephant’s Graveyard) “for a natter,” as Bill Hamilton puts it.
According to Jaguar spokesperson John Crawford, Ogilvy “offered us so many resources we hadn’t had through our previous agency. It was obvious they had a passion for the product and understood the benefits.”
There were few at O&M more passionate than Sutherland, now sitting in his office, chain-smoking Marlboro Lights, having just finished a radio interview about the new Jaguar TV spot. Unlike the typical cavernous office and obligatory slice of Manhattan skyline that usually complements an executive title, Sutherland’s digs are small, with one window, masked by Venetian blinds, overlooking a few dingy buildings opposite. The modest office is typical of this witty, self-deprecating man with a penchant for addressing people as “sausage,” “possum” or “pikelet” (a New Zealand potato pancake). He doesn’t enter awards shows (although he says he has hundreds), he doesn’t seek publicity, and in an ad business filled with expanding egos, his seems firmly under control. Overlooking his desk is a ceramic figure of large leprechaun advertising Guinness beer taken from a Hong Kong bar, a souvenir of his guerilla advertising days. His office shelves are crammed with memorabilia, including his collections of Scottish regimental soldiers, Ryder trucks and relics from advertising’s past.
“I’m a pack rat,” confesses Sutherland. “I have over 30 different collections at home, from antique toys, advertising memorabilia to hand guns of the early West. My wife says my only hobby is starting collections.”
One of the items Sutherland has collected along the way is his long-standing relationship with John Doig, now executive creative director at Earle Palmer Brown. The pair first teamed up at O&M/Aukland and soon found themselves running the SH Benson agency- -after O&M bought it– with offices scattered across Africa and Asia. Sutherland became creative director of O&M/Taiwan, went on to Singapore, and finally rejoined Doig in Hong Kong in 1979.
In 1981 they started their own agency, Meridian, setting their sights on becoming a “high-profile hot shop.” For clients such as RJ Reynolds, Remy Martin, Toshiba and Chase Manhattan Bank they began churning out commercials featuring masturbating flashers, Ku Klux Klan impersonators and Cockney caricatures of Queen Elizabeth. “We were all young once,” chortles Sutherland, now a stocky, graying 42.
The stories about them are legion. “We had the time of our lives in Hong Kong,” says Doig. “In Thailand Ross was like a one-man ad agency. He could do 150 TV spots a week. We’d do half a dozen before lunch and then nothing in the afternoon. It’s very difficult to separate Ross from the bars and the restaurants that were our past.”
In 1983 Sutherland moved to O&M/San Francisco while Doig landed at O&M/New York. When Sutherland found it hard to work with Hal Riney, head of the SF office, he joined Doig in New York. New York, says Sutherland, was “the most miserable O&M office. It was a hugh rabbit warren of a place. And it was the start of Ogilvy’s decline.”
Initially they spent their days trying to recreate the kind of freedom they’d enjoyed previously, but found their style seriously cramped. Clients, notably unobtrusive in the Orient, tended to get in the way in New York. Together they worked on campaigns for Hershey’s, AT&T and Concord watches. But Sutherland was happiest creating the kind of print work he did for Owens-Corning. “I like print because you own it totally,” he says. “You make every decision yourself. I’d much rather set type than work with TV where so many other people get involved.”
“He understood the difference between an idea and an execution,” says Doig. “His writing and art direction is intrinsically entwined. Ross has the quality to touch the man in the street. There’s no contrivance in his work. He’d make me rewrite type over and over again to get rid of all the hyphens and widows.”
Hamilton joined O&M in 1989, not long after Doig had decamped to McCaffrey McCall, lured by the prospect of working on Mercedes. And there were rumors that Sutherland would soon follow. According to Hamilton, “I’d noticed him prior to coming to Ogilvy and tried to hire him (at Chiat/Day) but he wasn’t interested. I think he was stifled to a certain extent by Doig. I saw him as an emerging talent. When I got here, this was not particularly an embracing place. There were so many fiefdoms. He and I hit it off immediately. He was very smart and a natural advertising human being. He was also fun to be around, warm and generous with a great sense of human beings.”
Sutherland, under Hamilton’s aegis, rose from art director to executive creative director. “I know he got incredible resistance from the people upstairs,” says Sutherland. “Bill took a huge chance on me. I used to frighten the shit out of them. Ken Roman didn’t know what to do with me. I was seen as too wacky. The kind of guy likely to say ‘f— you.”‘
“When I got here there were a number of naughty boys,” says Hamilton. “And the talent was not being used to the degree it should have been. There was a disengaged management very typical of big ad agencies of the ’80s. It was run on the momentum of the past and the legacy of David Ogilvy.”
It was partly because of Hamilton that Sutherland stopped drinking. “I can never do anything half way,” Sutherland admits. Yet he knew “I could play a bigger role. Bill said, ‘If you do this for me, then I’ll do this for you.’ A lot of people had said that to me before. But I believed Bill, because there’s no guile about him. What you see is what you get.”
“He was at a turning point in his life and I told him he had to make a decision,” Hamilton remembers. “And I’d been there before. I told him that he’d have to decide to be good not just from 10 a.m. to noon, but from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. And that he couldn’t be so angry. Drinking makes you angry. Ross was angry.”
“Bill has been the best thing in the world for Ross,” says Doig simply. “He changed Ross’s life.”
Put in charge of accounts like Ryder Trucks, AT&T, Smith Barney, Hershey and General Foods, Sutherland was the obvious choice when Jaguar came along. “It was a good chance to be in on the ground floor,” he says. Up against the likes of Lexus, Mercedes, BMW and Infiniti in the luxury car sector, Jaguar’s task was to convince consumers that the car had luxury automobile quality while retaining its distinctiveness. Resources, however, were limited. While Lexus and Infiniti ad budgets hover around the $120 million mark, Jaguar had to scrape along on a mere $20 million.
The first ads that Ross and his team, writers Tom Cook and Jim Nolan and art directors Sherry Pollack and Craig Markus, produced was a print campaign for the XJ6. It showed a couple of woodcuts of bucolic English scenes which barely even feature the car. There was no headline and acres of seemingly self-indulgent copy. (“By some strange twist of time and fate I think I understood how Lady Godiva felt . . . .”)”I love doing ads that don’t look like ads,” comments Sutherland.
And these were certainly different from anything else in the category. “We tried to bring back a lot of the romance to the brand,” explains copywriter Nolan. “This car is different from other brands, it has a different visual identity and through the long copy we needed to tell a tale of just how specific the car was.”
“I think the woodcuts are the best print advertising that’s run in the last four or five years,” says Doig. “The Jaguar’s a quirky car and the woodcuts are a good way of showing it. The key is that Ross understood what the Jaguar is all about.”
“It frightened a lot of people in this agency,” says Sutherland. “Because the first rule of car advertising is to have a nice shiny shot of the car. All cars look awfully similar, like half-used bars of soap, rounded at the ends. The woodcuts are a way of saying, ‘Hey, look at Jaguar. We’re doing something different.’ Do we expect people to read all the copy? No. But if you ask people, they all tell you that Jaguar has a lot to say. People read print in a different frame of mind. After all a car is the second biggest purchase after a house. So long copy for cars is fabulously appropriate. For beer, no. But for cars, yes.”
Adds Hamilton, “There were a lot of rules being broken. The trouble with most car ads is that they all mush together. It’s the guy who stands out that cuts through. A lot of internal creative directors here thought it was a bad idea. If it wasn’t for Ross’ willpower, it wouldn’t have made it through.”
The campaign also initially made Jaguar uneasy, but they backed it anyway. “When a new agency comes in, you’re bound to get a new vision,” says Crawford. “The ads were of great value to us because they signaled a change and captured the essence of Jaguar and Britain.” The dealers ultimately agreed as well.
The campaign ran in the Wall Street Journal. According to Jaguar’s Craxford, apart from attracting enormous attention because of its unusualness, calls to the 800 number increased dramatically along with sales leads and dealer enquiries. The next phase of the campaign was designed to show off the restyled car in all its re- engineered glory. “If you could drive one car to your high school reunion, this would be it,” read the headline above a shot of the Jaguar XJS convertible and details of the car. Another ad showed the XJ6 alongside the smokey form of a Jaguar big cat.
The first TV spot which broke earlier this year was designed to flag the XJ6’s lease price of $549 a month. It showed languid shots of the car accompanied by a bluesy tune and the printed words, “It is Shangri-La. It’s a ride on a comet’s tail. Two parts love and one part lust,” which slide languidly along the car’s body curves.
“We had to match the car with copy tone,” says art director Pollack. “Jaguar is sleek, romantic and sexy, and we wanted a languid and sensual approach.”
The next spot, “At Last,” costing $400,000 and directed by Thom Higgins, was designed to be the ultimate statement of what the Jaguar is. It opens to a shot of clouds, followed by the super, “There are no magic carpets left to ride,” then a shot of a woman in a floaty chiffon dress and another super, “There are no maidens left to save.” The spot ends with a boy skimming stones across water under the super, “They say passion is a weakness and love is merely an illusion. Obviously they have never driven the XJ12.”
“I don’t profess to say there’s anything significant about those clouds or anything original about a stone skipping across the water,” admits Sutherland. “But if we just showed a piece of car it would be a boring commercial. It’s the whole thing that will do something to people. It’s like a three-minute short story. Every time a shot appears with a set of words like ‘Love is an illusion,’ people feel free to make up their own stories.”
“It’s very smart advertising,” says Len Pearlstein, executive creative director of Lord Dentsu & Partners. “Jaguar has an emotional tradition. More than any other luxury car it is the most evocative and these ads have done a great job of delivering the passion.”
According to Jaguar’s Crawford, sales for the year to date are up 26.6% over last year with April alone up 29%. Observes Nolan, “For the first time in years Jaguar has great cars and they’re getting better all the time. There’s still some scepticism but the auto press have been giving much better reviews.”
Ask Sutherland what makes a great car ad and he says, “It has to do with something in your heart.” This from a man known for the expansive proportions of his own heart. “Ross is one of the most generous spirits,” Doig says. “He cares a lot about the people in his group.” Adds Hamilton, “He runs the tautest group around. His people love him. He’s a marvelous friend and colleague.”
If O&M’s ads for Jaguar succeed in reviving the brand, Sutherland would of course be intensely gratified. But, he notes philosophically, “If nothing else we’ve revived Etta James’ career.”
Copyright Adweek L.P. (1993)