DUESSELDORF, Germany - The launches of the new Golf, Astra and Focus are such crucial events that their manufacturers have gone to huge lengths to get them right.
General Motors replaced its two regular advertising agencies because their ideas for the launch campaign weren't good enough. Volkswagen invited outside agencies to pitch their ideas, but in the end stayed with their ad suppliers.
Even Ford, which has stayed with its two traditional agencies, has not decided yet whether to run a pan-European campaign.
GM ousted its regular agencies Lowe & Partners in Germany and the UK, and McCann-Erickson, which has had the account for all other European countries.
London-based agency Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe won the contract for Europe with the exception of Germany, which was given to Saatchi & Saatchi's Frankfurt office.
However, Lowe & Partners and McCann-Erickson will still handle GM advertising other than the Astra launch.
Volkswagen held its competition last spring. DDB, which had worked for Volkswagen for 28 years (except in the USA), managed to hold on to the account. Saatchi & Saatchi's Frankfurt office was the other finalist.
Ford has stayed with its established agencies Ogilvy & Mather and Young & Rubicam (Germany).
Although they refuse to reveal their ad budgets for the launches, the three carmakers' combined spending in Germany alone will be over $100 million this year.
VW changes strategy
Volkswagen had to completely rethink its advertising approach after it had started work on the Golf's launch strategy. Initial market research had concluded that the launch would be almost routine, because the Golf brand was stronger than ever.
But the research did not take account of the impact of rivals such as the Mercedes-Benz A-class, Audi A3 and BMW 3 series on the lower-medium segment.
Volkswagen had to reconsider the positioning of the Golf.
'The campaign for the new Golf is much more than advertising for a new car,' said Rolf Dielenschneider, VW manager for marketing communication. 'It is also advertising for all those people who drive this car already. The ads are supporting the unique classless positioning of the Golf.'
Market research found that Golf drivers felt that their car would never overshadow them. It was their own personality that would be reflected in the car, and not vice versa.
The creative team at DDB translated these findings into 'Generation Golf,' and finally into concrete advertising proposals. These have been market tested in a number of European countries.
VW concluded that the branding of the Golf driver would work well all over Europe.
GM aims for youth
'The car will appeal to the very young as well as older drivers,' said Holger Lutz, Saatchi & Saatchi managing director.
'Compared with the previous Astra, this Astra looks entirely different in design - it is a revolution - and this car will also appeal much more to women.'
The first Astra was aimed at drivers aged 25-50. The new car is aimed at a much younger group.
Although 'the Astra has the same positioning across Europe,' said an Opel spokesman, the ad strategies vary.
In Germany, for instance, Opel will not use the 'Quality is a right, not a privilege' slogan. Quality, to German consumers, means premium-priced brands such as BMW and Mercedes-Benz. Instead, German ads concentrate on the Astra's design.
'Roads are the arteries of our world. And now we are going to raise the pulse,' says the voice-over in the 45-second commercial. Opel hopes to sell 210,000 Astras in Germany in the remaining nine months of this year and 250,00 in 1999.
Focus on 1/8New Edge'
As the Focus will not arrive until October, Ford is releasing no details about its advertising strategy. But ads are expected to concentrate on the Focus' 'New Edge' design, which it shares with the Ka and Puma.
Peter Townsend, Ford's European advertising manager, said both of Ford's agencies are creating campaigns. 'But we have not yet decided whether we will run one Europe-wide campaign or a different one in Germany,' he said. 'Even three campaigns is a possibility.'
One significant difference with the Astra and Golf is that the Focus' predecessor, the Escort, will remain in production until 2001.
This will affect how the new car is presented to consumers. Said Townsend, 'There are always people who prefer the old design.'