Asiya Bakht
Jun 16, 2010

Profile: Marketing head Lito German on BMW's Asia operations

Lito German, the new marketing director at BMW Group Asia, is German by name if not by nationality, and is eager to prove his other credentials.

Lito German
Lito German

The immediately interesting thing about Lito German, BMW Asia's new marketing head, is his name. Ask him if it's a coincidence that a Filipino whose surname is German has ended up with BMW, a German company, and he laughs out loud. "We have about 100,000 employees at BMW and I am the only German, so it's a nice name. People remember me easily. I always joke that my name was my entry point at BMW. They didn't interview me after that," he says.

German's path into the senior ranks of BMW came about through a somewhat unexpected route. Working as a PR consultant in the Philippines between 1996 and 2003, German handled a number of corporate accounts including Coca Cola, Pfizer, MTV, Sunlife and BMW, as well as several political clients, including that of president Joseph Estrada and senator Butz Aquino.

Things took a turn in his favour, he says, when he was fired and hired on the same day. "The president of BMW Mark Gilbert invited me and told me first that BMW was no longer taking in consultants and the better part of the news was that he was offering me a full-time position," he says. "I think I had had enough of the political side anyway and wanted to focus on the corporate side, so it was an easy decision to make."

In his current role, German is responsible for 12 markets in Asia, excluding China, India and Malaysia. Friendly, chatty and blessed with a good sense of humour, German has won the admiration of his new agency associates.

One of the few big initiatives undertaken by German has been the appointment of Publicis as BMW's regional creative agency-of-record. German says that he sat through all the discussions with the agency along with former marketing head Ramesh Divyanathan, regional MD Johannes Seibert and Simon Rock, the former MD of Performance Motors.

"We were in a big room and in the end we ensured we all agreed," he says.

The marketer is full of praise for Publicis. "The finalists were all great and when we limited it to three I would say that we could have gone with any of them and we would still be moving forward at a great pace," he says. "But I believe that the standard of competition says a lot about Publicis' ability to stand above it. They gave a fantastic pitch and they were really engaged with the brand."

German adds that he was disappointed to see the departure of Publicis Asia-Pacific CEO Matthew Godfrey to Y&R shortly after the business was awarded. "I got to know Matt very well," he says. "He gets my vote as one of the nicest people on the planet. If he says it's good for him, then I can support him. "

In return Godfrey says Lito is a true representation of the BMW brand. "He puts a great deal of joy into the business and encourages the agency to work with equal passion. He is full of ideas and if he wanted a second career he could come back as creative director."

With the new agency firmly settled in, German is now busy focusing on a series of product launches for BMW in Asia, including the roll out in the next several months of up to eight new or updated models. The year has already started positively for the luxury car brand with a 51 per cent increase in sales year-on-year in the first quarter.

The company's big focus is countries like Singapore, which accounts for 60 per cent of volume in Asia, followed by Indonesia, which makes up 15 per cent.

German, though, says that volume is not everything and the company is also focused on countries that "have astounding levels of growth" such as Vietnam, which saw 106 per cent annual growth last year.

So with a new agency and new marketing head, can we expect to see big changes in BMW's advertising in Asia? After all BMW's last major advertising campaign rolled out in Asia was the adaptation of the global 'Joy' campaign where the auto firm changed its tagline from 'the ultimate driving machine'.

German says that within BMW "change is derived from the direction set by the central office" and everyone in the company is aligned to it. "We have added a lot more human faces and human emotions to our advertising. It's putting the focus on the softer side of things."

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This article was originally published in the 20 May 2010 issue of Media.

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