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Volkswagen Taps Arnold Fortuna Lawner as New Ad Agency

March 28, 1995

NEW YORK (AP) _ Volkswagen of America Inc. has ended a four-month search for a new advertising agency, selecting a Boston-based shop whose only automotive experience is work for some New England car dealers.

Arnold Fortuna Lawner & Cabot was picked over three other finalists for the assignment. Volkswagen declined to say how much it spends on advertising but it has been estimated at $110 million.

Arnold Fortuna creates advertising for Titleist golf balls, Nynex calling cards and pay phone service and McDonald’s franchise groups. The agency and its predecessor shops have at various times created advertising for the Oldsmobile and Subaru dealer associations in New England.

It’s never had a national automobile account.

Volkswagen of America, based in Auburn Hills, Mich., put its account up for review in December after 16 months with the agency Berlin Cameron Doyle, which coined the theme ``The Most Loved Cars in the World.″

But Volkswagen quit using that line in recent advertising which has focused mainly on value and its leasing plans.

Volkswagen U.S. sales, hurt by limited supplies due to a strike at its plant in Mexico, dropped to 49,533 in 1993, the lowest level since the brand was just starting to establish itself in the United States in 1955.

Sales bounced back strongly in 1994 to 97,043 with more cars available, but Volkswagen still didn’t feel comfortable with Berlin Cameron Doyle.

``The synergy wasn’t right there,″ said Tony Fouldapour, a spokesman for Volkswagen of America which markets the cars in the United States and Canada.

The company contacted about 20 ad agencies in December, narrowed the field to 10 to 12 in January and selected five finalists in February. One of the finalists dropped out and Volkswagen heard presentations last week from the final four on how each of them would help the brand back to prominence.

In Volkswagen’s heyday in the United States in 1970, it sold nearly 570,000 cars led by its homely but serviceable Beetle.

Francis J. Kelly III, chief marketing officer at Arnold Fortuna, said the agency created a video in which it sought to describe the essence of the Volkswagen brand and offered 30 to 40 rough suggestions for ads.

``They want us to reintroduce Volkswagen to North America ... to reconnect the brand to how people are living in the late 1990s,″ he said.

The other finalists were the Richards Group of Dallas and the New York agencies DDB Needham Worldwide and Deutsch Inc.

``We saw four very impressive presentations,″ said Steve Wilhite, who is in charge of Volkswagen sales and marketing.

He said the winner ``exhibited a rich and deep understanding of our products and customers.″

VW hopes to expand sales in the United States and Canada to a combined 175,000 this year. That would be up 42 percent from the combined total of 123,212 in 1994.

Volkswagen expects to have ads from its new agency ready for the introduction in the third quarter of its 1996 Golfs, Jettas and Passats.

Arnold Fortuna handled $365 million in ad billings last year and has about 450 employees. It will hire about 50 people to help handle the new account.

The agency learned of its selection Monday morning. Kelly said Wilhite told the agency it was the unanimous choice of the 15-member committee of Volkswagen executives and dealers. ``They felt we had delivered a strategic and creative grand slam that could excite America about Volkswagen again,″ Kelly said.

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