Online All Stars: The Lion Tamer

Tim Ellis/Illustration: Molly Crabapple

Tim Ellis Vice President of Marketing, Volkswagen of America

A lot of people know Tim Ellis is Volkswagen's vp marketing, but most don't know he used to be a stage actor. For what it's worth - and I'm sure Ellis will concur - acting is about risk, and actors are willing to risk a lot to make a character come to life. Volkswagen's willingness to take risks since Ellis came on board in late 2007 is certainly reflected in campaigns both traditional and digital.

And while there's certainly a lot of stage-like theatricality in recent anthropomorphic ad campaigns like "Das Auto" and "Meet the Volkswagens," Ellis has also been pushing the boundaries with digital elements of the campaigns, doing things nobody had done before. The company hasn't much choice but to take chances if it wants to reach its goal of selling some 800,000 vehicles per year in the U.S. by 2018.

Consider last year's "What the people want" campaign, where Max the talking vw Beetle held forth on a Web site of the same name, in front of his feed-back compromised microphone, hosting a consumer-voting show that asked questions ranging from the inane to the prosaic to the profound, with Max exhorting people in his German-accented English to vote.

The effort, via Crispin Porter + Bogusky, a risk-everything sort of agency, took those responses and threw them back at the world on the microsite, through banner ads and even the abc Supersign in Time's Square. Volkswagen was the first advertiser to use that sign's interactive capability, by which passersby could text via cell phone to respond to Max's questions, in real time.

Ellis, before joining Volkswagen in December of 2007, was global director of advertising for Volvo Car Corporation in Gothenburg, Sweden. And before that, of course, he was looking at spotlights, not headlights. Karl Greenberg

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