Volkswagen was a dying brand in the US. The culprit was poor quality. Customers had been fooled into buying a Jetta or Passat on the idea that they were getting “Precision German Engineering” at a bargain beerhaul price. When the cars didn’t deliver quality- they moved on to more reliable brands.

Enter Kerri Martin, the marketing exec that built BMW Mini’s success in the US with über hot agency, Crispin Porter +Bogusky.

All of a sudden, people are ignoring the fact that VW is still at the bottom of quality- at least their ads are interesting- showroom traffic picks up- and so do sales. But, alas, not enough for the big boss: Adrian Hallmark. He doesn’t understand the Crispin “Factory” approach to advertising- where’s the unifying tagline he asks- and fires Martin. All of a sudden, VW ads are once again boring.

Price and Product boring. Like a frickin laundry list- “Three V-dubs for under $17,000.”

And quickly- we’re back to talking about the wrong thing: price.

Once again, Mr. Hallmark is changing directions- now, hoping a feel good campaign with a tagline “When you get into a Volkswagen, it gets into you.”

Hmmm…. like under your skin, when you are taking it back to the dealer for the tenth time to get the same thing fixed (a former employee was constantly having problems with his Jetta).

Advertising Age - VW’s Marketing Takes Another Hairpin Turn
Before Ms. Martin left VW in January, the brand’s ads generated the most buzz and press in the industry. But since her departure, VW ads haven’t attracted much attention.

Mr. Hallmark said the carmaker decided to “save our gunpowder” for national ads until the second part of the year.

VW spent just $19 million in measured U.S. media in the first two months of 2007 and $241 million in calendar 2006, according to TNS Media Intelligence.
Volkswagen follows a winding ad road

February 2006: Introduces “Fast” doll online and in ads featuring lab-coated German “engineer” and the line “Unpimp mein auto.”

April 2006: Introduces jarring “Safety Happens” push, showing Jettas getting slammed into by other vehicles.

May 2006: “Low-ego emissions” for Passat shows drivers in other German cars shouting arrogantly into megaphones.

May 2006: TV spots feature a lederhosen-wearing spokesman next to a white Jetta, saying, “Stereotyping is stupid.”

June 2006: Rabbit spots show two cars — one white and one black — multiplying like bunnies.

October 2006: Free-guitar incentive for buyers of Jettas, Rabbits, GTIs and Beetles; TV spots feature Slash and John Mayer.

February-May 2007: “Three V-dubs for under $17,000” touts versions of Beetle, Jetta & Rabbit.

One thing is for sure: Crispin is being patient, but a $300 Million dollar client can do that to you. The only thing VW could do to guarantee an improvement in it’s marketing is take Hallmark out of the drivers seat and bring back Martin.

At least she has a track record of delivering sales.

note: we’ve written about almost every one of the above campaigns- except the Price and Product idiocy in past posts.