Volkswagen's media boss on why he no longer asks media agencies just to 'save money' but to focus on strategy as well
Cost efficiency will not solely be at the heart of how Volkswagen plans investments moving forward, claimed its head of media planning Oliver Maletz.
Instead, he's asking them to contribute to the car maker's profit: "For many years we asked our media agencies to save money and now we're fundamentally asking them to be more strategic and think differently," Maletz explained at the Festival of Media in Rome yesterday (8 May).
Cue the clinks of champagne glasses at agencies as they celebrate a rare bright spot in an industry battered by corporate cost-cutting. Much has been written about advertisers losing confidence in media buying, their fears pricked by suspicions that kickbacks take precedence over getting the right result and yet here is an advertiser pinning its colours to the media mast. Granted, as one of the largest media spenders in the world, Volkswagen couldn't continue to expect more for less from its agencies but, as the growing rift between advertisers and agencies suggests, many marketers still do.
Taking all that on board, it's clear why it took 18 months for Volkswagen to pick PHD as the agency to handle its eye-bulging $3bn media account. Five months in to the deal and it's still regarded as the "honeymoon period" as both navigate the complexities of adapting to processes and technologies in 40 markets.
"I'm a big fan of the adage 'you get what you pay for'," said Maletz of why the brand had to look "differently at what we were getting from our agencies".
Essentially, that comes down to planning. If Volkswagen is to be a car marque that successfully goes from selling one car to someone every ten years to profiting from a business that offers rise sharing services and logistics to that same person on a monthly or even weekly basis, then it had to move its planning expertise.
"In the past we used to brief the creative agency and it would go off and come back with a print plan, a TV plan and some online stuff," he added. "It's hard to get the, [creative agencies] to think differently....we turned that over and now we're developing a core communication plan that is a fundamental part of the creative briefing now."
What Maletz is talking about here is Volkswagen closing the ever-widening gap between creative and media. By moving the core part of the brand's communications planning ahead of the creative ideation, he expects ideas to be built around a customer not a slick TV spot.
Another way to look at it is the formation of a planning process that isn't at risk of being influenced by trading deals struck by the media agency, a deep-rooted point of contention that reared its head on a few occasions at the annual gathering of marketers.
"It's not that we do do all the communications planning centrally, it's that we do that core bit of understanding the path to purchase," added Maletz.
This would involve asserting what the brand wants consumers to do and what KPIs its marketers will track as well as knowing how to stretch that idea across different consumer channels.
Comms planning "should be before creative", opined Maletz. Unsurprisingly both advertisers and agencies point figure at one another as to why ideas like this are a few and far between as show in a recent survey by ID Comms.
"[Marketing] is no longer about us becoming a nice twinkle in the eye story, which is great and we don't want to remove that but that's not the end goal. It's pulling the path to purchase together to actually help the consumer along....it's not about incremental sales for the business anymore as much as it is about driving value from the sales we make. "
Correction: This article was amended on the 9 May after Volkswagen clarified that asking agencies to save money would still be a part of its plans.