ADVERTISER OF THE YEAR: VOLKSWAGEN - The respected German car manufacturer gave its agency, BMP DDB, a challenging brief and succeeded in bringing a tired category bang up to date

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 outstanding work.

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

outstanding work.

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

Creative Circle.

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).