VW: ‘We used to ask media agencies to save money; now we also want strategy’ | M&M Global

VW: ‘We used to ask media agencies to save money; now we also want strategy’

Media will play an increasingly important role in Volkswagen Group’s global marketing strategy, according to the car-maker’s head of international communications and media planning Oliver Maletz.

(L-R) Festival of Media's Jeremy King and VW's Oliver Maletz
(L-R) Festival of Media’s Jeremy King and VW’s Oliver Maletz

Maletz sat down with Festival of Media chief operating officer Jeremy King to talk about how to look differently at the roles of agencies as well as whether brands are prepared for programmatic.

“We haven’t spent enough time as an industry working out the consumer path to purchase,” started Maletz. “How does someone buy a car? The sale is essentially made online,” he added, commenting that dealership visits going down from seven to nine to one or two.

“We haven’t understood those paths, and how to help consumers on those paths.”

Maletz commented that the toughest hurdle to surmount is encouraging internal change when such a large organisation is used to doing things in a certain way.

Re-building marketing infrastructure

With the shift the automotive industry is experiencing to monthly transactions, he said VW’s entire marketing and sales infrastructure needs to be re-built for talking to consumers on a regular basis, rather than every six or seven years.

“We used to just brief our creative agency, who would show how that works in TV or print. It has been hard to get them to think differently, so, by the time we got to communications planning, there was a TV plan, a print plan and some online stuff.

“Now we’ve shifted it, to communications planning up front, and that can dictate which creative agency we use. It’s a fundamental shift, and it is proving challenging to implement and get everybody on board.”

Maletz said being strict is a real challenge, but brands need to look differently at what they are doing from agencies.

“Consumers don’t want to be disrupted, they want to be helped, and I think that’s the challenge”

“For a long time, [brands] asked media agencies to ‘save money, save money’ – now we’re fundamentally asking them to be more strategic.”

He talked about the importance of re-evaluating every three years, following a challenging 18-month pitch which resulted in the appointment of PHD Media to its global account: “It was complicated because we wanted to do it right if we’re going to switch across 40 markets.”

A learning taken from the pitch was to solve problem first. “It’s amazing how many haven’t done that,” he added. “It’s amazing how many you feel have only met themselves for first time in the lobby before the meeting.”

Agency chemistry

But how do you decide who will make the best partner, when everyone claims to be number one? According to Maletz, a lot of it is down to chemistry.

“It’s literally putting the meat around the bone of our process, understanding what insights we’re using, why, how we can provide right information,” he commented. “We’re already looking ahead towards programmatic, which is almost a natural fit.”

Maletz firmly believes that programmatic is a tool which can be used to increase average transaction and micro-targeting to avoid white noise and focus more on the consumer.

Looking at disruption, he questioned whether “cutting through the noise” was really possible.

“Consumers don’t want to be disrupted, they want to be helped, and I think that’s the challenge – to help them come to their own conclusion by giving them the right information at the right time in right way to drive profitability.”

It’s not as much about incremental sales as driving the value, with the question shifting from, “can we?” to, “should we?”

With programmatic the main topic, Maletz said VW is still grappling with the “wild west of measurement” and ensuring we get the right measurement with everything clean and above board.

“Is it cost effective? Efficiency has to at least match what we’re spending on the tech to make it happen – if we spend $50 and make $50, is it worth it?”

Looking to the future, he said the plan was to go away from selling cars to selling services: “It’s a fundamental shift to a full service model, but we’re just not used to it.”

Media will not be at the back end of line, more at front as you could argue it always should have been.

Anna Dobbie


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