Colenso BBDO straps in as Volkswagen’s new agency

One of the world’s most enduring and successful agency-client partnerships has come to an end in this part of the globe, with Volkswagen saying goodbye to DDB after 11 years and, in another slightly surprising decision that follows up from last month’s 2degrees pitch, choosing Colenso BBDO as its agency. 

VW’s general manager Tom Ruddenklau, who has been in the role for around 18 months after coming across from Hyundai, was at pains to point out that the decision wasn’t based on DDB’s performance. He says it has the utmost respect for the agency and “they did an outstanding job for the brand” and “provided us with an amazing platform for growth”.

While pitches often hint at something not being quite right, Ruddenklau says that wasn’t the case at all. He says the business is going through a major change at present—including significant staff changes—and he says “we’re at a point with the brand where we needed a revolution as opposed to an evolution”. 

“We’re on a path to double the business and we’re assessing everything. The dealer network, head office and all our partners. So it’s not something that’s in isolation.” 

He says the three parties it talked to—Colenso BBDO, Assignment Group and DDB—”are at the pointy end” of the ad game, so it certainly had some good options and DDB gave the brief a really good crack.

“It was touch and go,” he says. 

He says this quest for a revolution isn’t about focusing on digital. This is a definite strength of Colenso BBDO’s, but he says DDB’s digital capabilities are also outstanding. 

While DDB does have the lion’s share of work for VW around the world, Ruddenklau says each market is able to choose its partners so it isn’t going against a global agreement with this decision. For example, VW works with Ogilvy in South Africa, there’s an element of the VW work in Australia with another agency and the BBDO network has some VW business in the UK.

DDB’s chief executive Justin Mowday is currently on leave, but DDB Group chairman Martin O’Halloran, sent through a statement: “We’ve had a wonderful 11 years with Volkswagen in New Zealand with the brand going from strength to strength. There has been market recognition for our campaigns, including the Supreme Award at the Marketing Awards last year, as well as year on year retail sales increases. Naturally we are disappointed with their decision and wish them well.”

Given IAG’s decision to give the AMI business to Colenso BBDO after 18 years together, the loss of another major long-time client will be tough to swallow. 

Colenso BBDO’s managing director Nick Garrett was unable to be contacted, but as an agency, it hasn’t had too much in the way of automotive experience in recent years (it has worked with Mercedes and before that BMW), although it does have plenty of staff with automotive experience. 

Speaking of BMW, it’s thought it was aiming to have three agencies involved in a pitch, one of which was the incumbent DraftFCB. But it wouldn’t be surprising if this decision and the availablity of DDB and Assignment could change that. It’s thought Special group and Y&R are also involved. 

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