One of Detroit's award-winning marketers stole away into the night around Christmastime. Her name: Liz Vanzura, director of advertising and marketing for Volkswagen of America. The official word from Volkswagen is that Liz wanted to go home to care for her two young children, but the facts don't add up.
When Liz was a no-show at the International Automotive Advertising Awards show in Detroit on Jan. 10 - where, by the way, Volkswagen and its agency, Arnold Communications, stole the show - tongues started wagging. No one really believed that Liz, at the height of her career, just decided to go home.
Insiders at VW say Liz was too opinionated, free-spirited and independent, and that angered some of her superiors. But aren't marketers supposed to have those traits?
Some say she wasn't a team player.
After several calls to her home, Liz finally talked with Marketer for a few minutes. And not once did she mention anything about being a stay-at-home mom.
She did say that certain legal circumstances prevent her from talking about her departure from Volkswagen. (Since when can't a woman talk about wanting to be at home with her kids?)
And she said that certain rumors about her next move - most of them being that she may land at GM's Hummer Division - aren't entirely correct. Not all wrong, but not entirely correct.
Another ad agency has lost an automotive account. Saab Cars USA has pink-slipped Martin Agency, at least as far as creative advertising is concerned, replacing it with Lowe Brindfors, an agency in Stockholm, Sweden, Saab's home country. Martin will continue to do direct marketing.
Hopefully an agency from Sweden has a better idea of what Saab is all about and can convey that message to the U.S. consumer. Saab, which is owned by GM, just doesn't seem to have a niche. It's supposed to be a 'quirky' car, but apparently there aren't enough quirky consumers out there.
Brindfors, which, like Martin, is part of Interpublic Group, handles the Saab brand everywhere in the world outside America. There was no formal presentation by the Swedish shop for the U.S. portion of the business, estimated at $60 million to $70 million.
In a telephone interview, Kristi August Smith, Saab's director of integrated marketing, said, 'We were not disappointed with the results from the Martin Agency, but felt a consolidation of our advertising with one agency would be more beneficial to us.'
The Swedish agency will be opening a service office in the Atlanta area, near Saab's Norcross, Ga., offices. 'This office,' commented Smith, 'will be staffed with creatives 'who know the U.S. automobile market, but there will be additional staff from Sweden who are familiar with Saab. The transition to Brindfors will be complete by May.'
Martin Agency introduced new advertising with a big splash in New York in 1999. It was supposed to give the Saab brand more muscle and more attention in this country. The 'Saab vs. ...' campaign was meant to show off the strengths of Saab, known in Europe to be just as safety-oriented and durable as Volvo.
But alas! The campaign seemed to wither and die, and Saab sales have not shown any improvement. As a matter of fact, the company only sold a little more than 39,000 cars in both 1999 and 2000, vs. 116,692 for Volvo in 1999 and 123,178 for Volvo last year.
No doubt Saab officials looked at 'Saab vs. Volvo' sales numbers and thought it was time for Martin Agency to go.
Saturn: Steady course
Jill Lajdziak, vice president of sales, service and marketing at Saturn, says you won't see Saturn dangling expensive incentives in front of consumers, even if the market drops drastically this year.
'You have to consistently change the elements in the marketing mix, but stay focused on core issues,' she says. 'People start aborting their strategy in tough times; they go instead with the strategy of the week. Responding that way to highs and lows doesn't work for our brand.'
Good news for newspapers?
Newspaper publishers are gearing up to take advantage of weakening auto sales. John Kimball, chief marketing officer for the Newspaper Association of America, says, 'If history is any indication, when selling gets more complicated, it's a time when newspapers take on added volume because we're immediate and can spell out disclaimers and rebates. When business is tough, newspapers prosper, and I would expect that again.'
The Newspaper Association of America represents newspapers around the country. Kimball says the organization will spend about $500,000 this year on a study that will investigate newspapers as a branding medium. It's the association's first such study, and the automotive sector will be a big part.
Automotive marketers tend to lump newspaper buys into their magazine budgets, Kimball says. He wants newspapers to have a separate identity.
'We're doing some research now on branding power,' Kimball says, 'using newspapers as a branding medium.'