DDB Worldwide is regarded as one of the most creative advertising agencies of our times - thanks in no small part to its work with the Volkswagen group.
DDB - the world's third largest advertising network - has won numerous advertising industry prizes during its 40-year history. Its work for VW has figured strongly in these awards.
Between 1996 and 1999, DDB and VW won 28 Lions at the international advertising festival in Cannes, France - six of them gold. Gold Lions are the equivalent of the film industry's Oscars.
At the Clio Advertising Awards in New York in May, the print Grand Clio was awarded to DDB Paris for an innovative campaign for the supereconomical 'three liter' VW Lupo.
The advertisement demonstrated the small car's fuel efficiency by showing how far it can travel based on the amount of fuel in a cigarette lighter, a lantern and a jar of paint thinner.
The tagline was simply: '3 litres aux 100km.'
Two years ago, Automotive News Europe's sister publication Advertising Age named DDB Needham - as the agency was then called - global network of the year.
Again, that decision was influenced greatly by the agency's work for VW. DDB's relationship with VW goes back to 1959 when the carmaker signed up DDB for its US account. Now, with the global expansion of Europe's biggest carmaker, DDB handles the VW account in 34 countries.
Last month, DDB announced plans to launch a new office in Berlin. DDB Berlin will open in the German capital in January 2001 and will take over representation of the VW account from its sister agency in Dusseldorf.
Industry estimates put the VW account's budget at some DM340 million (A173.8 million), which DDB said was likely the largest account held in the city.
DDB Worldwide Chairman and CEO Keith Reinhard said the opening of the Berlin agency was 'the realization of a longtime dream.
'The buzz about Berlin has reached the USA and of course all of Europe,' he said, adding that he saw Berlin as Germany's creative center.
DDB opened its first agency outside the USA in Dusseldorf in 1961. A year later, DDB grabbed the German Volkswagen account. The Berlin office will be its 207th international agency, and will employ 58 people from eight different countries. DDB has another German office in Frankfurt.
Until the reunification of Germany in 1990, Volkswagen's base in Wolfsburg was located near the Iron Curtain - or Zonenrandgebiet as the districts near the wall were called.
Forty-one years ago, VW distribution manager Carl Hahn recognized the potential of the VW Beetle in the USA. (Hahn became chairman of VW in 1982.) He met with numerous US advertising men - as many as 4,000, so the legend goes - before linking up with DDB New York.
Many years later, other German carmakers would follow VW's lead in the USA. Indeed, it took Mercedes-Benz 30 years to realize that its prestige cars could be sold with creative advertisements in the USA.
The advertisements for the VW Beetle have become legendary in the USA, as well as in the car's homeland of Germany. 'Think small' was probably the hottest slogan for the US market. In Germany, where market conditions and consumer expectations are entirely different, DDB developed the tagline 'Er läuft und läuft' (going, going).
Over the years, as VW launched new vehicles such as the Jetta/Bora, Polo, Lupo and Passat, more and more DDB offices became involved in creating VW advertisements.
Despite the fact that DDB lost VW's US account in 1992 - Arnold Communications Boston has handled the budget since 1994 - VW is DDB's biggest and the most treasured budget.
'Long before the Internet, Volkswagen advertising interacted with consumers by engaging their intelligence and their sense of humor,' said Reinhard. 'If you want your brand to be loved, then your advertising must be loved - and creating a love affair between Volkswagen and the 'Volk' (people) is what our advertising has always been about.'
DDB offices around Europe are involved in the creation of VW campaigns, including BMP/DDB London, Lucas DDB Amsterdam and DDB Paris. But the German budget is the biggest, because VW's position in its home country is unique.
The DDB offices create campaigns after strategic planning has been finalized via VW headquarters and VW's national dealers.
'The various DDB agencies create campaigns and Wolfsburg decides which ones run,' said Berthold Krueger, marketing manager for the VW brand and the VW group.
'Our aim is to use to advertising to strengthen and position the brands by using simple messages,' he said. 'The advertisements should be entertaining and humorous.'
Krueger said the media split is important. 'While television and cinema can transport emotional messages easily, daily newspapers and radio are most useful for sales-oriented promotion activities,' he said.
Despite their lengthy, prize-winning relationship, VW puts enormous pressure on DDB. VW is constantly looking for more creativity from DDB. It also monitors rival carmakers' campaigns closely.
Though not discussed in the open, the DDB-VW relationship has not always been a friendly one.
In 1997, VW stated it was not satisfied with the work being created by DDB in Dusseldorf. It invited other agencies to make presentations. Six rival agencies pitched, and few believed DDB could save the account.
Reinhard traveled to Germany 11 times during these critical negotiations and DDB managed to rescue the business.
'One year after we held the Volkswagen pitch, we are entirely satisfied with the work and the performance of DDB,' said Michael Grosche, VW's advertising manager for Europe in 1998.
For the launch of the VW Lupo that year, DDB developed eye-catching print advertisements that depicted the small car together with a button, an elastic band or a match. The tagline was: 'The Lupo. A great little idea.'
At the other end of the VW range, Passat advertisements are typically accompanied by the slogan: 'Passat. German for detail,' together with the VW emblem.
A recent two-page advertisement for the Golf station wagon showed a photograph of 75 percent of the car's body on the first page with the tagline 'continued overleaf.' The rest of the car was pictured on the next page.
An advertisement for the recently relaunched Polo supermini showed the car with misted-up windows and empty bottles of milk outside. The slogan was simply: 'The new, more comfortable Polo.'
While DDB's global network has now grown to over 200 offices, the secret of the creative success of the VW advertisements lies in DDB culture.
Jochen Plaecking, chairman of DDB Germany, said: 'Even in those offices where the VW account is small, only the very best DDB creatives will work on it. Plenty of our heart goes into the VW budget.'