Generating buzz for an underdog brand is in Kim McCullough's blood.
Her father worked at the former Doyle Dane Bernbach on the original Volkswagen "Think Small" ad campaign in the late 1950s. And she was on the marketing team for the first Mazda Miata 23 years ago. Now she is trying to create some magic at Land Rover and -- well, so far, so good.
Land Rover has been selling vehicles in the United States since the mid-1980s, but McCullough, vice president in charge of marketing and planning for North America, views it as a startup -- with mojo.
"The brand is hot right now," said McCullough.
The momentum is easy to explain. Land Rover's Range Rover Evoque was recently named North American Truck of the Year, and sales of the small crossover are brisk. But Kim McCullough has something to do with it, too.
Last March she was lured to Land Rover North America from Lexus to launch the Evoque, Land Rover's first compact vehicle.
Besides Lexus, McCullough has handled marketing assignments for four other vehicle brands in a career that spans more than 25 years. She helped launch the first Mazda Miata, Toyota's Tundra pickup and Yaris subcompact and the Nissan Titan pickup and the Quest minivan -- in addition to doing agency work for Chrysler and Buick.
The Evoque, which went on sale in October, is the first new Land Rover since the company was sold to India's Tata Motors in 2008 by Ford Motor Co. It's the first new Range Rover-branded vehicle in a decade.
It competes with the Mercedes-Benz GLK and two vehicles that aren't yet sold in the United States, the BMW X1 and Audi Q3. It has a base price of $43,995, including shipping, for the five-door -- about $37,000 cheaper than the flagship Range Rover.
About 81 percent of Evoque buyers are new to the brand, and most come from competing European luxury brands, said McCullough.
Land Rover sold 2,244 Evoques in the fourth quarter. The brand's total sales for 2011 sales were 38,099, up 20 percent from the prior year. In January, Land Rover sales were up 41 percent, and 680 Evoques were sold.
Land Rover aims to sell about 1,000 Evoques a month this year in the United States, but strong worldwide demand has created a tight supply. In the United States, the waiting period is up to two months in some areas.
The Evoque was launched in the United States with a TV commercial developed by Young & Rubicam, Land Rover's global and U.S. advertising agency, but localized for this market. "The Power of Presence" commercial shows the vehicle creating a stir in New York.
"The commercial was filmed near Times Square," said McCullough. "What happens in the commercial is fairly typical in real life: People stop and stare at the Evoque and constantly ask what it is. This kind of buzz is revitalizing the brand."
This is McCullough's second stint at Land Rover. Her first was from 1997-2001, when the company was owned by BMW. McCullough launched the second-generation Discovery and later became general manager in charge of marketing services.
This time around, the spunky 50-year-old, whose no-fuss hair-do and rosy cheeks make her look at least a decade younger, brings a lot more experience to the job.
She's a vintage car buff and drives in rallies. McCullough and her husband, Mitch, an auto journalist, have a small collection including a 1956 Alfa Romeo, a 1970 Alpine-Renault A110, some vintage Lotus race cars and a 1956 Land Rover Series 1.
To take the Land Rover job, Kim, Mitch and their 160-pound English Mastiff (named Chapman, after Lotus founder Colin Chapman), gave up their house in Redondo Beach, Calif., trading in a tiny back yard for an 11-acre spread in rural Pompton Plains in New Jersey.
Growing up in California in the 1960s, McCullough delighted in the cars her father, Edward McNeilly, brought home -- including the original Volkswagen Beetle, VW's odd-looking four-wheel-drive Thing, and the Porsche 914. The "Think Small" campaign that Doyle Dane Bernbach created in 1959 was named the top campaign of the 20th century by Advertising Age, a sister publication to Automotive News.