OPINION: Mills on ... Skoda

It's a funny game, car advertising. A bit like buses really. You wait for ages, and then two great ones come along at once. Can it be a coincidence that one is for Volkswagen and the other for VW's smaller, uglier sister, Skoda?

It's a funny game, car advertising. A bit like buses really. You wait for ages, and then two great ones come along at once. Can it be a coincidence that one is for Volkswagen and the other for VW's smaller, uglier sister, Skoda?

'I think I really like those new VW ads,' said a friend who, and I mention this only to add wholly irrelevant detail, drives an Alfa. He left something unspoken hanging in the air though. 'You know that one where the man puts his dog in a taxi rather than have the dog mess up his new car? Well, it made me laugh but ...'

'Spit it out,' I said.

'If I bought a VW Passat, I wouldn't want the neighbours to think I was that kind of person.'

'What kind?' I asked.

'Anal,' he said.

That, I suspect, may not be the reaction that VW would expect from viewers. Nor, when it comes to Skoda, is it likely to be an issue either. Anal, I mean. But what their friends, neighbours and peers think about Skoda drivers is pertinent, and it is exactly that prejudice that Skoda has set out to conquer.

And my how successfully it's done it. The latest campaign from Fallon (Campaign, last week) is a continuation of this theme. In the first ad the driver of a car transporter stops outside a Skoda dealer. He is carrying a full cargo of Octavias. This car, and we'll have no jokes about contradictions in terms, is the top-of-the-range in the marque. Our transporter driver starts to unload them.

He looks at the cars. 'They can't be Skodas,' he thinks. Wearily he loads up and drives off. It's a beautiful idea, executed with great clarity. There's no dialogue.

In the second ad, two forensic scientists are in a lab. In front of them is an Octavia. Bit by bit, in meticulous and intensely detailed manner, they piece together information about the driver. But when it comes to the make of the car, they are lost. Up comes the by-now-familiar endline: 'It's a Skoda. Honest.'

Easy-peasy. The viewers figure it out for themselves, which is always a risk but when it works is the kind of thing that leaves them with a warm glow about themselves and the brand.

Judging by the latest sales figures for 2000 from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, that warm glow is translating into hard cash.

Consumers are not only reassessing their view of Skodas, they're buying them. Over the year, Skoda sales rose by 35 per cent, and market share increased by a third to 1.3 per cent. To put that achievement into context, Skoda now has a bigger market share than Alfa Romeo, Mazda and Saab, all of which over many years have had the benefit of both heritage and significant advertising budgets behind them.

Of course, you may know much of this since Campaign made Skoda its Campaign of the Year for 2000. Interestingly, I'm told that Skoda has ordered 3,000 reprints of that article. As the Halifax and B&Q are discovering, that's testament to the extraordinary motivating power of good advertising on staff - not only in engendering a sense of corporate pride but harnessing it to encourage greater sales effort.

There's a niggle in my mind, though. As Skoda might say: 'It's an observation, not a gripe. Honest.' But all this let's-take-the-piss-out-of-ourselves can't go on for ever. As my dad once said to me: 'If you don't take yourself seriously, why should anyone else?' Self-deprecation is fine when you're a challenger brand; it's less tenable when you're bigger than some of your rivals. Until then, let's all enjoy a stunning campaign.



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