If German car ads have acquired a certain patina of dullness over the
years, then it should be said that BMW is in no small way responsible.
The luxury car marque insisted for years on a single corporate typeface
in all its work and on celebrating arcane technical refinements to its
engine in the copyline.
Last year, though, it signalled a change by appointing the hottest of
German hotshops, Hamburg-based Jung von Matt, to its account. JvM
promptly resigned its multiple award-winning Audi account to have a go
at German car advertising’s problem child.
The results have now slowly started to trickle through and already it is
safe to say that - in BMW terms at least - they constitute a
Not least because they don’t even show the car. ’The more we looked at
the car market, the more it looked as though everybody was trying to
create artificial positioning points for their car,’ the Jung von Matt
creative partner, Hermann Waterkemp, explains.
’The fact is that every brand now has a sports coupe or whatever. So car
advertising will compare the car to the thrill you get from sky-diving
or some other extreme sports, and then people go outside to their car on
a grey day and find that this is not actually the mad adrenaline rush
they were promised in the ads.
’We have pointed to some of the fun things you can do on a day-to-day
basis - like hanging out with friends or listening to music - and shown
how driving a BMW is another one of those. We can’t promise raptures,
but if you’ve been stuck in the office all day we can promise that your
ride home will be a lot nicer.’
There are other subtle changes too. The standard BMW typeface is out and
the agency has produced long copy ads for the print work, celebrating
unlikely improvements like the aluminium undercarriage on the new 5
’We wanted to make events,’ Waterkemp says, ’and borrowed a trick from
fashion advertisers who sometimes take up to 12 pages of ads but just in
a single magazine, rather than trying to cover all the bases. We ran
three spreads in a row about the aluminium undercarriage in just a
couple of titles, Spiegel and Stern. It doesn’t matter if not everyone
sees the ads - the idea is to get the car talked about.’
KEK Frankfurt has taken care of the small but influential Porsche
account since 1994. But it picked up the business at a nadir in the
luxury sports car maker’s long history.
’To understand our current campaign, you have to go back to 1994,’ the
account director, Frank Schreiner, explains. ’At that time, Porsche had
a very poor image in Germany. The problem wasn’t the car at all though,
it was just people’s acceptance of the brand. Porsche found itself the
preferred car of racists and show-offs and had serious social acceptance
problems as a result.’
KEK’s solution was to take the advertising back to basics. ’To achieve
some sort of social acceptance, we adopted a totally different layout in
the press work and just shot the car in a studio. We didn’t go for
sports shots or street scenes, and the copy talked simply about the
opinions of the driver and positioned the car as a treat, like buying a
holiday home or something like that.’
And it was only the launch of the Porsche Boxster (above) - the
lowest-priced model in the Porsche range - two years ago that prompted
any shift from that approach. The Boxster’s target age group is 30-45 as
opposed to the 45+ of the 911, and the copy reflects the car’s more
youthful target market.
’As far as creativity in car advertising goes though, I’d have to say
that Germany is getting worse,’ Schreiner adds. ’The problem is that too
many campaigns now are running across Europe and so are essentially
creative compromises. Fiat, for instance, used to do very creative work
before it became a European campaign. Now it’s only the likes of Audi
and Mercedes that are flying the flag for German creativity in car
Springer & Jacoby has handled the Mercedes account in Germany for the
past ten years and it’s hard to make a case that this hasn’t been a
highly successful tenure. According to the Gfk Consumer Research
Association, for instance, Mercedes Benz advertising is now the most
well known of any in Germany.
Certainly the campaign has been a consistent award-winner, most recently
picking up a gold and silver at last year’s New York Advertising
Festival for its TV work. The current print-led campaign focuses on
milestones in the development of Mercedes, ranging from the invention of
the diesel passenger car in 1936 to fuel injection in 1954. It carries
the new brand endline, ’the future of the automobile’, to try to support
the claim that Mercedes has always represented the future of the motor
’A range of largely historic vehicles were newly photographed and
inserted into existing photos, some of which came from the UK magazine,
Wallpaper,’ the S&J board member, Dr Michael Trautmann, explains.
The result was a series of innovative photo-compositions that have
maintained Mercedes’ creative pre-eminence in Germany.
’For years, advertising by Mercedes enjoyed special status in Germany,’
Trautmann points out. ’In recent years, however, significant competitors
have also recognised the importance of creativity. Audi, for example,
has released some very creative impulses on the German market in the
past few years. I’m sure that the increasingly tough competition will
sooner or later convince other manufacturers too that without creativity
it is not possible to build up real brand personalities. In the future,
the car alone will not be enough.’
Saatchi & Saatchi was the beneficiary of Jung von Matt’s decision to
give up on the most innovative car advertiser in Germany in September
last year after an award-winning six-year tenure. So far, though, the
new agency has not had many opportunities to shine - no new models, for
instance. In fact the first campaign originated by Saatchis’ Germany
office was for the revamped Audi A4.
’Although the car has had some technical improvements, from the outside
it looked very similar,’ the managing director, Holger Lutz,
Saatchis’ solution was a new copyline, ’one step further’, and a series
of TV and print ads to show how a good car had just got better.
’We do feel very fortunate to be working with Audi,’ Lutz adds, ’because
it is the one car client in Germany that has demonstrated over the years
that it expects creativity in its advertising and that it is prepared to
work closely with its agency to make sure it gets it.
’And it’s largely through its efforts that the creative standard of car
advertising in Germany is now fast improving. But having said that, I
think all good car advertising comes from having a great product to
sell. People in Germany are passionate about their cars and are quick to
see through exaggerated claims.’
But it is precisely this passion which has caused German manufacturers
to err on the side of caution in the past, and to weigh down their car
advertising with detailed and substantiated product claims designed only
to appeal to the most fervent petrolheads.
This is now changing, Lutz says, but only because of the far-sightedness
of clients like Audi, for whom a string of impressive new products has
proved a liberating experience.
Volkswagen likes to claim its products represent what it refers to as
the ’democratisation of excellence’. But then, to be fair, it also
believes in a certain ruthless democratisation among its European ad
agencies as well. ’Eighteen months ago, we moved away from a
country-specific structure to a more international one,’ Paul Steentjes,
creative director of DDB Germany, explains.
’The new system involves creative representatives of the five big
markets - France, UK, Germany, Italy and Spain - meeting and pitching
their ideas for the model under discussion. We’re not yet at the point
where one campaign can run across Europe but we will run no more than
three of them.
’The idea is that this way we establish one coherent set of VW values
across the continent. So far it has worked well.’
One result has been a greater willingness on the part of the German
agency to embrace the creativity demonstrated elsewhere in Europe.
Steentjes says: ’I think it’s fair to say that German consumers
historically wanted more information from their car advertising than
consumers in other markets. And when advertising is primarily an
information medium, it is less able to take creative risks. But that is
changing as we are exposed to different ideas.
’The German agency has produced a more creative execution for the launch
of the new generation Golf and for the new Lupo model that I don’t think
would have seen the light in Germany even three years ago.’