Q&A: Sex, emotion, surprise

Opel's new marketing director has big plans

Ruesselsheim, Germany. Alain Visser, Opel's director of European marketing, spoke to Automobilwoche's Harald Hamprecht about the positioning of the brand, traditional values, new price strategies, customer contacts and guerrilla marketing.

Your new Tigra spot ends on a men's toilet. In newspaper ads you use the word "climax". Has your marketing taken a new direction?

Yes, it is my aim to achieve a more courageous form of marketing. Our brand needs more sexiness, emotion and surprise effects. The products have improved a lot regarding design, quality and sportiness but the communication has not quite kept the same pace.

Is that a slight criticism of your predecessor, Alain Uyttenhoven?

No. I have seen many good spots during his time, but also many that have never been aired. We have made a step in the right direction. I will ensure that this journey will become faster.

What is your goal?

Every employee and customer should have a clear, distinguished picture of the brand.

Can you put that into one sentence?

Opel stands for quality and courageous design but also for dynamics, innovation and flexibility. Every employee needs to understand that, needs to represent those values and be a messenger for the brand.

Where do you stand today?

I do not want to cover anything up. We have to accept that we have a weak position within the great mass of the population' perception. So far our products are being bought for rational reasons. Soon those reasons will become emotional ones.

Might this offend your regular customers?

We will never move away from our traditional values such as quality and innovation at a fair price. An internal survey showed that our customers' loyalty is far above average with 58 percent. We want to keep those customers. We do not want to become a premium brand. Saab and Cadillac cover that market segment.

You are no longer only brand director but marketing director. What new responsibilities does this include?

Carl-Peter Forster wanted me to extend the brand management to the operational business. That is why I am now co-responsible for all marketing budgets. To better control them we established a "trend board" a few days ago. Every quarter employees from all over Europe will make suggestions of how to approach atypical Opel customers, even if it is a fashion show in Rome.

Is that all?

I am also responsible for the price formation in Europe. Beside the price strategy we will also be responsible for equipment packages down to the choice of upholstery. The general idea is to extend the marketing input into product development. That is why in October we will introduce a women's panel. A committee of 15 women from seven countries should help to make the female voice heard.

This sounds like a revolution. From a financially driven group to marketing orientation. Now you only need control over the trade.

Which is restricted to guidelines regarding dealers' appearance. We also have to become stronger here as the dealer is the group's business card. So far Opel's activities ended where the contact with customers started. I will send my 52 employees to visit the dealers on a regular basis as this contact is the key to success.

What is happening in regard to media?

So far we have three media agencies for Opel alone in Europe. Universal McCann, Initiative Media and CCC in Germany. We want to become more efficient here, not only for Opel but also Vauxhall, Saab, Cadillac and Chevrolet.

Do you plan to use other communication channels?

We want to increase our presence outside TV, print media and posters. I instructed our lead agency, McCann-Erickson, to go into guerrilla marketing. I also plan to increase product placement. And viral marketing. It costs almost nothing. We only need motivated messengers for the brand and provocative, memorable messages.

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