TOP PERFORMERS OF 2000: Campaign of the Year - Skoda. Once the butt of a thousand jokes, Skoda achieved the unthinkable and turned itself into a desirable product through a brave and witty campaign from Fallon

Only a year ago, the idea of setting foot in a Skoda was tantamount to committing the unforgivable crime of cruising around in a Robin Reliant. But Skoda's advertising campaign, created by Fallon, has helped reverse this stereotype, reviving the fortunes of its cars in the UK and catapulting the brand to become a more serious player in the automotive market.

Only a year ago, the idea of setting foot in a Skoda was tantamount to committing the unforgivable crime of cruising around in a Robin Reliant. But Skoda's advertising campaign, created by Fallon, has helped reverse this stereotype, reviving the fortunes of its cars in the UK and catapulting the brand to become a more serious player in the automotive market.

At the start of 2000, the desperate image crisis suffered by Skoda was equalled only by the universal derision with which it was regarded. This was at complete odds with Skoda's new sleek, contemporary image, which had improved so dramatically that its Fabia car won the coveted What Car? Car of the Year award in February.

Yet the brand's improvements were met with an overwhelming indifference from the buying public, who remained unconvinced.

According to Millward Brown, 60 per cent of consumers questioned said they would definitely not consider a Skoda. And a writer at The Mirror voiced the thoughts of a nation when he wrote: 'I see that Skoda Fabia has been named Car of the Year but I somehow don't think I am ready to drive one yet ... it's slightly less embarrassing to be seen getting out of the back of a sheep.'

Fallon's subsequent appointment to the task was a welcome move, but the path to success was strewn with hurdles.

When Skoda's marketing director, Chris Hawken (middle, left), took the unprecedented step of sacking its European advertising agency, Grey, in favour of the unproven Fallon, he ran the gauntlet of massive prejudice within the company.

And the relaunch advertising budget for the Fabia - no longer a budget car - was a trifling pounds 4.5 million, reportedly half that of Toyota's launch of the Yaris and pounds 12.5 million less than the sum Renault spent on relaunching its Clio brand.

Faced with only a two-month, low-budget advertising possibility, Fallon realised that a complete change of direction for the product was necessary.

In a bold move, the agency confronted prejudice head on, and used self-deprecating humour to get independent-minded consumers to re-evaluate the product.

One ad showed a well-heeled boss being given a guided tour around a Skoda factory. After continuously voicing his admiration for the sophisticated cars, he said to his chaperone in a conspiratorial whisper: 'And I hear you also make those funny little Skoda cars here as well.' A second commercial showed workers lowering a Skoda car on to a show stand before their angry supervisor came over ranting that they couldn't put such a stylish car on to a stand bearing the Skoda logo. The third ad showed a security guard telling a car owner in apologetic tones that vandals had stuck a Skoda badge over his sleek car's own logo.

The subsequent furore generated by this short burst of advertising snowballed the Skoda phenomenon out of the trade press and into the waiting jaws of the nation's cynics.

But this time it was met with universal acclaim. Even the press fell over itself to heap accolades on the new darling of the automotive industry. Suddenly The Mirror had conveniently forgotten its former derision and could not find enough superlatives for the brand, calling the Fabia 'hip and sexy - history's biggest comeback since Bobby Ewing stepped out of the shower'.

And the industry loved it too. Skoda won the supreme Grand Prix 'winner of winners' award in the Chartered Institute of Marketing Effectiveness Awards, and Hawken was named Marketer of the Year. More importantly, the prejudiced public had proved its favourable reappraisal of the brand by making it the only UK car brand to increase its sales that year.

After Skoda had reached 61 per cent of its year's target in three months, the manufacturer suddenly found it had a 1,500 waiting list for the first time in its history. And Millward Brown's next figures showed 79 per cent of consumers believed that Skodas were better than they used to be, while a third of them could imagine themselves driving a Skoda - an increase of almost 70 per cent on previous questioning.

Supported by a quirky direct mail campaign from Archibald Ingall Stretton - in which a veteran Skoda owner voiced his concerns about the sleek new look of the cars - the phenomenal success of Skoda in the face of such impossible odds wins it the coveted Campaign of the Year award.

Skoda's rebirth was, however, given a good run for its money by Leo Burnett's Heinz Salad Cream campaign. Heinz had a similarly tough task of reviving its brand using humour at the core of its strategy and challenging consumers' perceptions of the product by promoting it in a new light. In the television and press campaign, no food was immune to the tangy delights of the easily applied sauce. 'Any food tastes supreme with Heinz Salad Cream', the strategy announced proudly, and consumers bought both the strapline and the product in spades.

Campaign also applauds Lowe Lintas's 'Withabix, withoutabix' campaign for Weetabix. Up against strong competition in the cereal market, Lowe Lintas successfully contemporised Weetabix while holding on to the brand values built up over previous years. It is a campaign idea with a mileage and longevity that stands out in its category.

Recent winners: Levi's Sta-Prest (1999); Volkswagen Polo (1998); Volkswagen 'affordability' (1997); Conservative Party (1996); Miller Pilsner (1995).



Topics