Perennial challenger Škoda is taking a new approach to competing in emerging markets
The car manufacturer’s global head of marketing discusses new AOR relationship with FCB Inferno.
FCB won the Škoda business after a four-way pitch against Ogilvy, Fallon and 72andSunny / Skoda
Competing against huge automakers marshaling vast marketing budgets, Škoda has always had to punch above its weight. In coming years, that task may become even more difficult as it works to ward off competition from new entrants in key markets.
The Czech car company may be a big wheel domestically, but beyond ‘Škodaland’, Meredith Kelly, global head of marketing at Škoda Auto says it’s undeniably a “challenger”.
“In the Czech Republic, it’s a household name and the biggest brand in the country – you could call it Škodaland – but go to other countries and we’re really a challenger. You can’t afford not to stand out so we need to be a lot more distinctive.”
The firm isn’t just trying to overtake rivals, but keep up with consumer trends that are reshaping the automotive industry – and the way car marques sell themselves to drivers.
There’s growth in South Asian markets where consumers are just beginning to buy more cars, and where Škoda has production facilities. Meanwhile, southern Europe is a region of focus too.
“We need to build a brand that is a lot more global. We are seeing massive growth in markets like India, which is a big focus for us, and we’re just entering Vietnam – in fact, my boss [Martin Jahn, the brand’s marketing boss] is there with the prime minister of the Czech Republic,” she says.
“At the moment the brand has built itself up quite differently in different markets. If you took a flight to Milan and then Prague, and then Mumbai, you might see very different advertising and a very different tone and feel. We’re really trying to make sure that it’s a lot more coherent.”
At the same time, the shift towards EV sales means new rivals are appearing on the scene. “We are at a tipping point in the industry at the moment. Everybody’s moving towards electrification but that means that competitors are changing. In Shanghai, Volkswagen recently lost market leadership to BYD."
BYD is a Chinese tech company that branched out to EV vehicles and quickly became the country's biggest manufacturer. That it's overtaken a brand like VW highlights the shift in consumer mindset and the willingness of younger generations to buy a car from an software developer rather than an established marque.
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Behind the pitch
That led the firm to rethink its agency partners. A creative review, managed by Observatory International, saw FCB, Fallon (which created its famed 2007 ‘Baking Of’), 72andSunny and Ogilvy battle it out to land the account.
Incumbents Optimist Inc wasn’t invited back, she says, because the team knew they needed new ideas on the account. “We knew we wouldn’t appoint them so we didn’t really see a point in doing that.”
“When I grew up, I thought automotive advertising was probably the most epic,“ says the South African marketer. “These days it’s become a bit predictable and far too product-orientated. There’s like five driving scenes, features, the price at the end and a badge – there’s a sea of sameness. So to be honest, we wanted somebody who's not afraid to do some fresh thinking.”
Though the global AOR is a significant gig, says that Skoda wanted to work with a smaller agency from the outset to ensure it got enough attention, something she hints Ogilvy, one of the lead agencies for a certain global soft drink manufacturer, couldn’t guarantee.
That agency that ticked all the boxes was FCB, which had just wrapped up its contract with BMW a few months prior. “Having handled BMW is definitely an advantage to know how to manage a global brand,” Kelly says on what swung the agency’s way.
And in contrast to other leaders, FCB global chief exec Tyler Turnbull flew to each pitch meeting in person.
“What we like is that they’re small enough that we’re going to be important to them. You don’t want to have the same agency as Coke. We want to be important to them,” she says.
“It’s a Goldilocks kind of thing. It’s small enough they give you personal attention but big enough that they’ve got the scale and global resources we need. The global CEO, who’s based in Canada, came to every meeting. So we saw amazing resources, a commitment and a real hunger.”
The brand recently refreshed its logo, following the development of a new strategy, and Kelly says the FCB appointment will “bring it to life,” ideally with a touch of the same humor that made the brand’s past ads such hits.
While it’s too early to set out a timeline for the first campaigns, she says: “we definitely want to be lighthearted and use humor. At the moment, for brands to catch attention is becoming harder and harder, and with the pressures on budgets and spending we can’t afford to be wallpaper. That’s the honest truth – we need to stand out.
“FCB gave us one or two ideas that were crazy and we need a little bit of that, a little bit of pushing. You need occasionally to see something that scares you.”