CLOSE-UP: Live Issue/Vauxhall - Will DLKW outshine Lowe and give Vauxhall youth appeal? DLKW's new Vauxhall win is about more than the Corsa ads, Camilla Palmer writes

All eyes will be on Delaney Lund Knox Warren %26 Partners this summer, as the agency unveils its first new work for Vauxhall since winning a place on the car manufacturer's roster.

In the short term, DLKW has landed the £16 million task of repositioning Vauxhall's Corsa brand, having elbowed aside DFGW and the incumbent, Lowe.

However, it seems likely that the agency was fighting for far more than simply its first car account.

Now that DLKW has muscled its way on to the Vauxhall roster, its presence poses a real threat to Lowe's 18-year hold on the business, with the potential to work on any piece of Vauxhall's £60 million UK account.

The manufacturer called a pitch to find a second-string agency in April, in a move seen by many as a bid to liven up the brand's creative work and seek inspiration from outside the Interpublic network, although DLKW is quarter-owned by the group.

General Motors, Vauxhall's US-based parent group, granted the marketing director, Dean Barrett, permission to seek a smaller agency, re-creating an arrangement of three years ago, when the then-independent Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe handled Vauxhall's Astra marque. RKCR resigned the business when the agency was bought by Ford's network, Young & Rubicam.

Vauxhall's marketing communications manager, Patrick Dunster, rejects claims that the addition of DLKW to the roster puts Lowe under threat.

"Lowe will remain the lead agency on the account, he insists.

"The fact that most big clients operate a roster relationship with their agencies means that the system works, and we want to take advantage of that too, he adds.

Others would argue that the re-introduction of a roster after years of a single agency's stewardship is a clear indicator of dissatisfaction with that agency's performance. Dunster admits that DLKW could well be handed those brands that Vauxhall feels are in need of some reinvigoration.

"We looked at a broad range of agencies, but what we liked about DLKW was its openness and the enthusiasm and honesty of the team there, he says, admitting that the agency's work on the mass-market Halifax account reassured him of its ability to produce crowd-pleasing advertising on big accounts.

Dunster is tight-lipped on Barrett's original plan to insist that the two roster agencies would pitch competitively for each project from Vauxhall.

He says: "We are still deciding under what terms the agencies will operate."

Vauxhall is similarly prudent when discussing whether Lowe and DLKW will be joined by a further roster shop, claiming that Lowe Broadway, which handles its dealer and point-of-sale communication, already fulfills that function.

What's clear thus far, though, is that Vauxhall's desire to steer the Corsa toward some fresh new thinking involved a change in driver - and there's every chance that if it proves effective, DLKW could end up taking the whole account.

Indeed, it is rumoured that all the agencies which were initially briefed for the pitch, which was run by the AAR, were sounded out as to whether they would be capable of handling the entire Vauxhall business.

Lowe will not comment publicly on DLKW's appointment, but seems to be pragmatic about its effective loss of Corsa, choosing to focus on its ongoing work for Vectra, which was relaunched with a TV and press campaign last week, and current projects "in the pipeline". One of those is developing a new campaign for the Astra brand.

"The agency has been working on the account for 18 years - it's good to have some fresh thinking, one Lowe insider says. "The threat of constant competition - if that comes about - will galvanise us into action too. Others hope this will not be the case, saying: "If we're expected to pitch for everything, it's going to be expensive and an inefficient use of both agencies' time."

There are some who see the Corsa pitch, and the re-introduction to competition to the account, as an unconventional attempt to patch up the degenerating relationship between Vauxhall and Lowe. "Clearly both organisations have been under pressure, another senior Lowe staffer admits. "The Griff Rhys Jones branding campaign was taken in the wrong direction, and that was a mistake, but that mistake wasn't fatal, or we would have been fired."

However, there is some evidence that the mistakes were serious. Lowe's "handles life beautifully strapline has failed to halt a gradual decline in market share. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders puts Vauxhall's current UK share at 12.6 per cent, a drop from last year's 13.6 per cent.

There's also a suspicion that Lowe has been unable, or unwilling, to take some Vauxhall brands in the youth-oriented direction favoured by the manufacturer. DLKW's initial work for the Corsa, which is likely to be younger in tone than Lowe's previous campaigns, is likely to fuel such speculation.

Whatever the future strategy for Vauxhall, DLKW will have to work hard to carry on impressing Barrett and ensure it stays in the game. But then again, so will Lowe.


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