VW's new marketing boss keeps the focus on German engineering
Tim Mahoney is laying the groundwork for Volkswagen marketing that aims to connect the brand to consumers in new ways.
"We are using an idea that will become the North Star for a lot of the work we are doing: "That's the power of German engineering,' says Mahoney, Volkswagen of America's new U.S. product and marketing boss.
Mahoney, 55, joined VW of America in May from fast-growing Subaru of America, where he was chief marketing officer. But he's no stranger to European brands and is even fluent in German. He returned to Subaru in 2006 after leaving in 1999 to be vice president of marketing for Porsche Cars North America.
Mahoney was interviewed by Staff Reporter Diana T. Kurylko.
Q: Volkswagen's ad campaigns have been varied -- from the kid playing Darth Vader in this year's Super Bowl commercial to "Unpimp my Ride" a few years ago with a German dominatrix. What direction will you take?
A: As chief marketing officer, I believe in consistency in how we present the brand. We are using an idea that will become the North Star for a lot of the work we are doing: "That's the power of German engineering." That allows us to tell a lot of great stories that are true to the brand and to tell them consistently in a timeless manner. We can tell an environmental story, a performance story, and a Chattanooga [site of VW's assembly plant] story -- that we have made a commitment to this marketplace in the middle of a recession. We can tell an emotional story because it's not all about cold sheet metal or sales. It's about the human feeling that people have for that brand and because of that -- that's the power of German engineering.
How important is it to convey that VW pricing has been lowered?
It is not all about pricing but it is about value. When you look at the power of German engineering, what does that rest on? There are three major buckets: quality and value, style and performance, commitment and responsibility.
If you took any of those individually, you could say that is so-and-so brand. But when you put them all together that is where we are going to make a difference. It wasn't so much about dropping the price but about creating value and valuable cars.
How much will you focus on price when advertising the U.S.-made Passat?
Unlike the positioning for Jetta, which was great for the price and that became the key message, the Passat story is more about all of these great things that you can get in a mid-sized car from VW starting at about $20,000. The price is not the lead story but the final point in the decision and communication process.
Will you promote the "Made in USA" message, or will that work against VW?
We had to cross this bridge in 1989 when I was at Subaru. Now it is irrelevant. We have some advertising to support Chattanooga. We had a print ad that says German engineering meets American ingenuity. It is not the topic of conversation any more.
How will you use social media for Passat?
We are going to use a lot of what you would call above-the-line media, which is a shorthand way of saying we will use a lot of television. Contrast that with Beetle -- it is iconic and that allows us to use those other mediums for that launch.
How will your global Think Blue campaign translate into U.S. commercials?
Think Blue is the company platform for environmentally fun-to-drive vehicles. It goes back to that really famous commercial with the parked Beetle that said: "Think Small." It is a takeoff on that.
Most American consumers don't know what Think Blue is. They know what Think Green is. We are going to use the terminology "Think Beyond Green, Think Blue." What that really means is that we will have a portfolio of green products. We are still working through some of the strategies and tactics. A big piece will be digital and print and we do not know if there will be Think Blue commercials -- probably not.
What percentage of VW advertising in the next 12 months will be TV?
A large percentage and a significant increase year over year. We don't normally release that. If you don't see our advertising this fall you must be out of the country.
What do you bring to VW from Subaru?
I am here in a new position that was created to put product and marketing together. That is something that comes from my six years at Subaru. I have the ability to understand how the Japanese think, having spent close to 20 years with them. I speak German. I worked for Porsche for seven years and lived and studied in Germany and Austria. If you put all that together, that is perhaps some of the stuff that made the telephone ring earlier in the year.
You can reach Diana T. Kurylko at email@example.com. -- Follow Diana on