PARIS – For Opel marketing chief Tina Mueller, it’s about the company you keep.
The former beauty-care marketer, hired 14 months ago by Opel and tasked with polishing the downtrodden brand’s image, makes no excuses for linking the automaker up with fashion models, rock stars and football heroes.
The latest match sees supermodel Claudia Schiffer stepping in as brand ambassador for Opel. She joined Opel CEO Karl-Thomas Neumann at the Paris auto show for the launch of the new Corsa small car.
The Opel stage resembled a catwalk and the media crush around Schiffer and Corsa had the unmistakable feel of a fashion preview.
“You have to just love our fashionable Corsa,” Neumann gushed, closing his remarks alongside Schiffer and calling the B-car Opel’s “latest top model.”
But the celebrity-as-pitchman approach in the automotive industry has drawn mixed results over the years.
Singer Celine Dion for Chrysler arguably never got off the ground; Buick narrowly escaped disaster after it called off a lackluster campaign with Tiger Woods just before his marriage and career unraveled; and the jury remains out on actor Matthew McConaughey for Lincoln, although Ford executives say he is creating buzz for the revival of the luxury brand, good or bad.
Mueller, who has authored a book addressing celebrity advertising, says a happy marketing marriage starts with the right match.
“When the images of the celebrities are too far away from your brand, they never work,” Mueller tells WardsAuto. “There are a lot of mistakes in celebrity advertising. You have to be very sensitive to who you take, and credibility also is very important.”
If the star pitches multiple brands, for example, stay away, Mueller says. “You have to be one of few, not one of many,” she offers.
In the case of Schiffer, the 25-year modeling veteran is German and her Opel campaign began with ads featuring a “Made In Germany” tagline.
In another celebrity linkage, rock musician Bryan Adams was brought in for the Opel Adam launch, where the now-aspiring photographer assembled an exhibit for the car in trendy Berlin He also helped design a signature model of the all-new A-car.
Mueller says the Corsa will see a celebrity tie-up for its launch early next year, but stops short of identifying the person. Expect another beautiful face, given Corsa buyers skew 67% female.
Mueller says she does not gravitate to using celebrities because she comes from the beauty-care industry, where the perfectly coiffed are an advertising staple. Instead, the Opel brand needed a jump-start, a fresh reference point for shoppers because new models such as the Adam, redesigned Corsa and Meriva, and all-new Mokka are more contemporary than any products the automaker has had in decades.
“The reason is the image problem Opel had,” she says. “When Claudia Schiffer, or Bryan Adams, is driving an Opel, I can drive an Opel,” she says.
More Europeans are driving Opel this year. Opel/Vauxhall deliveries through the first six months of 2014 are up 4.9% to 519,139 units from 495,081 and slightly ahead of the market’s 4.2% upswing, according to the 25 countries tracked by WardsAuto.
The automaker’s market share has edged up slightly to 6.6% from 6.5% year-ago, a modest but noteworthy gain, and Opel executives have targeted a 2-share-point gain by 2022 to overtake Ford as the No.2 seller in the region.
Mueller considers it within reach. “People think differently about Opel more and more,” she says, pointing to market research showing 10% of the people polled see the Opel brand on the decline. That compares with 50% last year.
“That has a lot to do with the perception of the brand,” Mueller says. “So in everything we do, we make sure that Opel is modern (and) innovative, (and) from a technical aspect we have much, much better cars. It is product, how we treat the brand, inform about the brand and advertise the brand.”
Mueller also credits Opel’s yearlong “Umparken im Kopf,” or “Change Your Mind,” marketing campaign as persuading consumers, especially Germans, to think differently about the brand.
“We opened the minds of people, and we showed them in a very authentic and entertaining and playful way what Opel is today,” she says.
Opel’s involvement in “Germany’s Next Top Model” television competition, hosted by supermodel Heidi Klum, includes commercials during the broadcast, a product placement in the competition, a sweepstakes and advertising with the winning model.
“The secret to success is to build a complete environment around your sponsorship,” Mueller says. “That costs a lot of money, so we can only pick a couple and do them properly. But I prefer doing two things properly instead of 10 things with only a little sponsoring money injected.”
As the Corsa launch approaches, Mueller expects to further refine Opel’s marketing. The Corsa campaign will weigh 60% digital, she says, and the onus will be on providing shoppers with what she calls “interesting content” focused on practical vehicle features and capabilities.
A new vehicle configurator for the Corsa consumer site is in the plan, too. It will be a higher-quality execution with more video and more compelling information.
“People want to see much more of the car,” she says. “They want to see each and every angle and dimension of the car.”
Look for more football sponsorships. Once a sponsor of FC Bayern Munich, Germany’s most successful soccer team, Opel spent a decade away from the sport as marketing budgets shrunk. But in the past 18 months, Mueller has signed several new teams.
In that short time, Opel has become the second-most-recognizable football sponsor in Europe. Mueller credits her multifaceted marketing approach, where the broadcast advertising links with stadium sponsorships, and players and coaches are featured with the automaker’s cars.
Earlier this year, Borussia Dortmund midfielder Marco Reus promoted his “1909” edition Adam.
“That worked extremely well,” she says.