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One Secret to VW's Success

By Steve McKeeMonday, February 11, 2013

A publication called the Gunn Report tracks honors and awards received by global advertisers. For the 11th year out of the past 14, one company has captured the most major international ad awards: Volkswagen.Volkswagen_5

That's a remarkable feat. But consider this: Volkswagen's market share has doubled since 2007, and the company's U.S. sales shot up 35 percent last year to more than 400,000 vehicles, its highest volume since the heydey of the original Beetle in the early 1970s.  VW is aiming to grow by an additional 83 percent in the next five years, with a goal of becoming the world's largest automaker.

Critics of ad awards point to examples of so-called creativity that haven't sold anything, claiming that awards are a useless distraction. But it's hard to ignore the correlation between advertising prowess and sales results at Volkswagen. Correlation, of course, does not prove causality, and there's a great deal more than advertising tied to VW's success, from product design to dealer relations. But VW's experience underscores the fact that creativity, in the proper context, always outperforms the absence of it.

Our own research among the nation's fastest-growing companies demonstrates that the most successful are nearly twice as likely to have won advertising awards as those that struggle. Whether good brands produce good advertising or good advertising produces good brands is academic. The most important thing is that they go together.

The question of whether creativity sells is never asked of movies, art, or music. Great advertising, like a beautiful painting or well-crafted film, is funny, or moving, or thought-provoking, or sometimes even uplifting. Must it be strategic? Of course -- but even the best strategy won't compensate for a lack of imagination.

By Steve McKeeMonday, February 11, 2013

Steve McKee is president of McKee Wallwork + Company, and author of When Growth Stalls and Power Branding. A marketing strategist for nearly three decades, Steve has been published or quoted in many top news outlets and industry publications, and writes a monthly marketing column for Businessweek.com.