Herbie the Love Bug rides again … sort of.
Volkswagen, which has a goal of tripling U.S. sales to about 1 million vehicles by 2018, is rolling out a classic Beetle as the brand's face and voice in a quirky TV, Web and print ad campaign that starts Monday in print and will be on TV starting Saturday. The campaign's star is "Max," a pristinely restored 1964 black Bug.
The stepped-up brand advertising precedes Volkswagen's introduction this year of several new vehicles, including the Tiguan crossover SUV, Routan minivan, Passat CC, clean diesel Jetta TDI and Jetta SportWagen. VW would not disclose the ad budget.
"We're reintroducing Volkswagen to the world by using a lovable icon that everyone will know and relate to," says Tim Ellis, VW's vice president of marketing. "Max will be integrated into everything we do and will be the connective tissue as we launch new vehicles."
In the TV ads, Max speaks with a German accent and plays a talk-show host. He conducts offbeat interviews with an eclectic batch of celebrities, including supermodel Heidi Klum, Star Trek actor Leonard Nimoy, Napster founder Shawn Fanning and David Hasselhoff of Baywatch fame. The first to air will feature basketball coach Bobby Knight and will appear during the Final Four of the NCAA men's basketball tournament on Saturday. Max provokes an outburst from Knight by poking fun at his recent retirement.
Max is actor Bronson Pinchot, a former Broadway star who got his first film breakthrough as Joel in Risky Business. He later played Serge, an associate art dealer in Beverly Hills Cop in 1984. His accent skills also landed him the role as Balki Bartokomous in the TV show Perfect Strangers in 1986. (ADDED: Monday, April 14, 2008)
"If people look at it and say it's silly, that's a good thing," Ellis says. "There's so much screaming going on, you have to take a chance and do something odd and silly. You're gaining their attention and a few moments to get them to stop and think about your brand."
VW needs more people to think about it. Sales were down 6% in the first two months of this year vs. the same period a year ago, and 2007 sales were down 5% from 2006. VW, Europe's largest automaker, has just 2% of the U.S. market.
"You have to steal market share today to grow," says Ellis, an award-winning marketer who was with Volvo for four years before joining VW in December. "You have to steal from Honda and Toyota. You have to understand those brands and their appeal and create an exciting new voice for VW together with exciting new vehicles."
Ellis and Miami ad agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky, which created the Burger King "King," chose a Beetle to represent VW because they see it as a pop-culture icon.
For a few weeks, Max and the celebrities will be the campaign's centerpiece. Then they will take a back seat as ads begin for the introduction of specific models.
The first of those ads will be for the new Tiguan in May.
Other campaign details:
•TV ads. Each celebrity is used to represent a particular trait of the brand. German supermodel Klum, for instance, tells Max that he's a feat of beautiful German engineering. Hasselhoff, a pop music star in Europe, talks with Max about being a European best seller.
"It's very easy to go out and hire supermodels and superstars and just have them say they represent your brand," Ellis says. "Every person we chose is unique and has a unique take on something we want to say about our cars."
•Web and print ads. With a theme of "What People Want," ads feature about 30 statements — such as "people want fewer passwords" and "people want dogs more than cats" — based on poll results from around the world.
Print ads send people to volkswagen.com, and Web ads let people click on the statements to vote on whether they agree, to see how others have voted and to comment. Says Ellis, "We want to create buzz and get people to check out Volkswagen again."
NEW & NOTABLE
Girl Scouts go commercial.
Faced with a recruiting slump — down 1% to 2% a year for the last decade — Girl Scouts of the USA has hired its first-ever chief marketing officer. Ex-Ogilvy & Mather ad executive Laurel Richie is charged with giving the 96-year-old organization an image makeover. Among plans: ads and more online marketing.
For "Earth Hour," marketers worldwide turned off lights Saturday from 8 to 9 p.m. local time. The idea was hatched last year by agency Leo Burnett in Sydney for the World Wildlife Fund and 2.2 million Sydney businesses and homes took part. (It won Burnett a Titanium Lion at the 2007 Cannes ad festival.)
This year, Earth Hour went global, adding about 25 cities. Marketers including Coca-Cola, McDonald's and Walgreens went dark at select locations — including Coke's Times Square billboard in Manhattan.
The white stuff.
The California Milk Processor Board 0of "Got Milk?" fame wants teens, who've been gulping less milk and more energy and soft drinks. It's created a MySpace page for faux rock star White Gold, who plays a clear guitar filled with milk (myspace.com/whitegoldiswhitegold). In April, he'll be in TV ads with sexy backup singers The Calcium Twins.
The board wants "to reach teens in their natural environment, the Internet, before losing (them) forever," executive director Steve James says. "We're hoping people will use the words milk and cool in the same sentence."
Gimme a "G"!
Gucci is the world's most-desired luxury brand, according to a survey of 25,000 consumers in 48 countries by The Nielsen Co. One of five said that if money were no object, they'd go for the "G" logo over any other luxury brand. Chanel and Calvin Klein tied for second.
Stuck on what?
Justix hopes it's one of its 13 new meals-on-a-stick, from chicken to salmon to tofu. With locations in Atlanta and Lexington, Ky., Justix sells sticky meals for $6.25 to $7.75, with brown rice and a side. Co-founder Cindy Lupi says some foods have proved tough to master. Broccoli is one of her best-selling sides, but she can't figure out a simple way to ram it onto the bamboo skewers.
By Laura Petrecca and Bruce Horovitz