VW Dealers Offer Excuses in Arnold ACD’s Debut

James Brown pushes “any excuse” to buy a new car from Volkswagen of America’s Southern California dealerships in his first assignment as associate creative director of Arnold’s 15-person Los Angeles office.

Brown, 42, oversaw the Havas agency’s print, radio and outdoor campaign, themed,”Any excuse will do,” for the dealers group. The effort, which broke last week, is a humorous take on excuses customers use to justify buying a new car.

One ad running in the Los Angeles Times and other local papers shows a smiling woman alongside a shiny VW. “Because my car smells like my ex-boyfriend,” reads the copy. Text underneath promotes “The Any-Excuse-Will-Do Sales Event” and encourages readers to visit socalvw.com.

Other ads offer reasons such as, “Because my horoscope recommended I make a change,” and “Because the valet changed my presets” to lure people to the sale.

“When people buy a car, they think they’re making a rational decision, but they’re not—it’s an emotional decision,” Brown said.

Similarly fashioned billboards are also running throughout the region.

Brown spent the last year as a freelance copywriter with Arnold before taking the acd post, a new position, last month. He is the office’s only creative but expects to build a staff.

“Not only is James a great writer, he also brings senior-level experience in a variety of categories of business,” said Arnold managing partner Alan Pafenbach, the Boston-based group cd to whom Brown reports. “James has created terrific work for Volkswagen, and it made sense to harness that momentum by naming him associate creative director.”

During the last six years, Brown also freelanced for L.A. agencies that included Deutsch, Ogilvy & Mather and Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners. He contributed to campaigns for automotive clients that included Toyota, Mercedes-Benz and Mitsubishi. While working with Saatchi & Saatchi in 1997, he helped launch Toyota’s Camry Solara sports coupe with a campaign tagged, “It’s for you.”

Before starting his freelance career, Brown spent a decade in creative positions at TBWA\Chiat\Day, Goldberg Moser O’Neill (now part of Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos), DDB Needham and Citron Haligman Bedecarré (now part of Euro RSCG Worldwide), among others.

Brown had not always planned on an advertising career. After graduating with a degree in English and philosophy from the University of Southern California, he interned in a law firm, intending to go to law school, only to quickly decide that law was not for him. His high school English teacher suggested he try advertising. Brown’s first ad job was at J.R. Navarro & Associates in L.A., where one of his first tasks was creating posters promoting his boss’ son’s band, Jane’s Addiction.

A car aficionado, Brown said he has owned several VWs—and had three stolen—although he now drives a used Porsche 911 Carrera. “I bought it from a guy in Philly who had it for 11 years,” Brown said. “My dog and I drove around the country for three months.”

Arnold’s Boston headquarters is lead agency on Volkswagen of America’s $350 million account.