Rover turns to Renault’s former chief as saviour

Beleaguered car maker Rover has recruited the man behind Renault’s Papa and Nicole campaign as its UK marketing director.

John Sanders, formerly with Renault and most recently deputy managing director of London advertising agency Broadway, is to take over the position regarded by many in the motor industry as the job from hell.

He will replace John Lowndes, who left the company last April after more than 20 years to join a US consultancy firm. Sanders will be responsible for the Rover, Mini and MG brands and an estimated 60m ad budget during a critical moment in Rover’s history.

The company is expected to lose up to 600m this year. BMW, which bought Rover four years ago, is losing patience and has frozen investment. It has demanded a 450m cut in costs over the next three years, or Rover’s biggest factory at Longbridge could close, threatening 14,000 jobs.

Sanders must begin to rebuild Rover’s market share in the UK, which has slipped from about 12 per cent in 1995 to nine per cent so far this year. He must also launch Rover’s new model, the Rover 75, an executive car unveiled last month at the British International Motor Show. Rover has invested 400m in the car, the first in a new generation of vehicles that are supposed to redefine the Rover brand.

Prior to joining Broadway, where Vauxhall is a big client, Sanders worked at Renault for ten years in a variety of positions from advertising and promotions manager to marketing manager for cars and vans. It was in this role that he launched the Renault Clio with Publicis’ long running Nicole and Papa advertising.

Sanders refuses to talk about his new job but Tim Grace-MacDonald, Publicis’ group account director for Renault, is optimistic about his chances at Rover.

He comments: “He was a very brave client. He had the vision and commitment to launch the Papa and Nicole campaign in the teeth of a recession. [Rover] will be a challenge, but I think he will be up to it. He has managed launches in difficult times before.”

Recent advertising for Rover by incumbent agency Ammirati Puris Lintas has shifted direction away from British nostalgia towards a more contemporary image for the brand. A campaign for the Rover 200 in April featured carnival scenes and a young woman wearing red, white and blue contact lenses.

It is not clear whether the arrival of Sanders will spark an advertising review. “We review our marketing constantly,” says a Rover spokeswoman.

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