Volkswagen, suffering from slumping sales and a sagging image, is looking for help from the ad agency known for helping launch BMW's successful Mini brand in the United States.
VW is ending a 10-year relationship with ad agency Arnold Worldwide of Boston. The new agency, Crispin Porter + Bogusky of Miami, quit the Mini account last week and will take charge of advertising and marketing for VW on Dec. 5.
Len Hunt, U.S. head of the VW brand, dropped the bomb on Arnold Worldwide in a phone call last week. "I was surprised," said Ron Lawner, Arnold's chairman. "That account meant an awful lot to this agency. It's very traumatic."
Said Hunt: "We wanted to go in a new direction," indicating it would be away from traditional TV and print and toward Internet campaigns and special events.
The VW brand's U.S. sales are down 19.1 percent through August compared with the 2004 period. That's on top of being down 15.4 percent last year vs. 2003. The brand's current tired image is in sharp contrast with the quirky, hip identity the VW Beetle enjoyed for decades - a role, ironically, now played with aplomb by the Mini brand.
Mini's billboard messages echo those early, spunky VW years: "Someday, we'll look back at big cars and laugh"; and "We were small when small wasn't cool."
Even though Mini is on the rise and VW is stumbling, it's not hard to figure out why Crispin Porter + Bogusky was eager to switch teams. VW of America spent $417 million on U.S. advertising last year, according to TNS Media Intelligence; Mini spent about $22 million.