There was no contest in this category: 1997 was Volkswagen’s year.
The German car manufacturer challenged its advertising agency with a
series of demanding briefs and BMP DDB responded with consistently
Campaigns for the Golf, the Passat, the Polo and the Sharan, plus the
affordability message, all contributed to the good name of VW while
successfully promoting the individual models.
Over the past 30 years, BMP and VW have together produced plenty of
great advertising. By the mid-90s, VW had become a prized but
undemanding client: a new Golf brief was an annual treat for the agency,
and the British public obediently sighed in unison: ’If only everything
in life was as reliable as a Volkswagen.’
But as other car manufacturers started to catch up on quality, VW’s
higher prices became harder to justify. In an intrepid move, prices were
slashed to compete with rivals such as Ford and Vauxhall, and BMP was
called in to communicate the new positioning to the public while selling
each of the VW models to its respective target market.
Instead of one generic campaign, VW and BMP had to communicate six
different messages, all of which had to be expressed in a consistent
’VW’ tone of voice. VW had become an extremely demanding client: all
four models needed an individual identity, and now that the Passat was a
valid fleet car, company car buyers had to be addressed as well.
The new lower prices also demanded a campaign of their own. The
’affordability’ work - arguably the best VW campaign of all - is
discussed at greater length in the 1997 Campaign of the Year
For Polo, the ’protection’ campaign showed consumers that you don’t have
to own a big car to feel safe. Rather than taking the traditional
small-car route of peddling convenience, Polo’s treatment stood out from
its competitors by homing straight in on the protection theme.
VW put at least pounds 14 million behind the launch of the 1997 Passat -
its highest spend to date on a single campaign - and once again the
client risked an unusual and controversial creative route. Up against
the likes of the Peugeot 406, VW bravely circumvented the sex sell and
went for the ’obsession’ theme.
That BMP managed to get the Passat campaign past VW’s German owners is
testimony to the strength of the relationship between agency and
BMP had to convince the Germans that they were not making fun of them,
just affectionately singling out a nation’s dedication to work and
attention to detail.
So the Passat was established as the German car with the human face, a
car that had been designed by individuals rather than
Not content with taking on Vauxhall, Ford and the like, VW’s broad
strategy allowed it to assert its singular German credentials against
its more upmarket rivals, BMW and Mercedes.
The results demonstrate the enormous success of the campaigns. Of the
16,730 people who are still waiting delivery of VWs, the majority are
Passat owners. Complete 1997 figures were not available at the time of
writing, but since 1994, VW’s volume increase has been 61 per cent (84
per cent including orders). Having languished at 3.9 per cent back in
1994, VW now claims (including orders) a 6.29 per cent share of the
Research shows that consumers deem VW to be a stylish marque that is a
’better make to own’ than a Vauxhall, a Rover or a Renault. Rivals such
as Ford and Peugeot have been forced to respond to VW’s success by
creating innovative campaigns that have together brought car advertising
out of the 80s and into the forefront of advertising creativity.
By its own standards, VW has completed a marketing revolution this year,
and BMP has matched its client at every step. VW has maintained its
quality proposition while winning creative awards across a range of
media, at Campaign press and posters, Cannes, British Television, and
The classic VW Sharan ’jelly mould’ poster won Campaign’s inaugural
readers’ award for best poster, and ’spaghetti junction’ made a fine
showing in the business press categories.
Although the decision to give the honours to VW was unanimous, it does
not follow that advertisers had a poor year in 1997. Three other clients
were singled out for commendation: Elida Faberge, Adidas, and another
BMP client, the Meat and Livestock Commission.
Unilever’s Elida Faberge arm finally shook off its lacklustre
advertising reputation by putting out some ground-breaking work courtesy
of two of its agencies, Bartle Bogle Hegarty and Ogilvy & Mather. BBH
developed the truly unexpected ’fax’ campaign for Addiction, and
persuaded Jennifer Aniston to play the stay-at-home girlfriend for a
dynamic Lynx commercial.
The Lynx press work was also high-profile, with a series of spoof
fairy-tale illustrations that demanded a second look. O&M’s Impulse spot
featuring an excited life-class model brought the brand instantly up to
date and gave new life to the line: ’Men can’t help acting on
Adidas must be applauded for putting its faith in advertising and
creating a year’s worth of memorable work with its agency, Leagas
Delaney. The Prince Naseem spot was the highlight of a shrewdly spent
pounds 3 million UK budget.
Finally, the Meat and Livestock Commission is recognised for its bravery
in a potentially disastrous year. It has spent consistently and
unabashedly to keep its flag flying, and sanctioned some stirring work
from BMP, including the ’anniversary’ beef spot and the harassed but
good-natured father in the recent pork mince recipe commercial.
Recent winners: Orange (1996); Daewoo (1995); Tesco (1994); Woolworths
(1993); Unilever (1992).