Adventures in Marketing: Volkswagen Airs Its Dirty Laundry

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
adventures in marketing volkswagen airs its dirty laundry

Corporate missteps requiring an apology — an increasingly common phenomenon in our current outraged era — usually follow a well-worn path. The CEO will issue a statement to the media and public apologizing for dastardly malfeasance and skullduggery (or offending a Twitter user), following it up with a statement posted to the company’s webpage and social media accounts. There will be appeals for forgiveness, perhaps tearful ones, at tense shareholder meetings — especially if the company is Japanese.

Following that, a burst of newfound goodwill appears to repair a tarnished brand.

But what if serious misdeeds, even those resulting in arrests and billions of dollars in fines, could be used to market a new product? Volkswagen went there.

In a new commercial, the German automaker takes its not-so-clean diesel scandal and makes it the centerpiece, rather than the thing we must not speak of.

Titled “Hello Light,” the spot opens with the opening of a distant door, which sends a narrow shaft of light into a cavernous, darkened interior space. A lone man enters the room as we listen to sound bites from VW diesel scandal media reports. Sitting down, dejected, he picks up a pencil and begins scribbling.

Simon & Garfunkel’s The Sound of Silence begins playing.

Our protagonist, a stand-in for the company itself, soon finds himself inspired, immersed in a new quest. He toils late into the night at his desk, pencil flying across the sheet of paper. Soon, seeks out an old Microbus blueprint. The computer screen glows as our designer refines his vision into a three-dimensional concept, one he shares with coworkers. Then, in a darkened factory, we see a shower of sparks — the designer’s vision is being made a reality. The shadowy skeleton of an unfinished vehicle body is seen, and we recognize the bus-like shape.

As the song swells, from the inky blackness shines an LED-ringed headlamp, VW logo glistening nearby, before the company’s I.D. Buzz microbus concept rolls out of the gloom, headed straight for the viewer.

“In the darkness, we found the light,” a message reads, before VW welcomes us to “a new era of electric driving.”

It’s a bold move for a company that suffered over $30 billion in penalties, lost its VW and Audi CEOs, and was forced to recall or buy back millions of vehicles on both sides of the Atlantic after rigged engines spewed illegal levels of smog-causing pollution for years.

Imagine if Ford acknowledged the infamous Pinto Memo in an ad for the new 1981 Escort, or if GM played up the rusty, overheating Vega when introducing the new Cavalier. Imagine if a somersaulting Corvair was the main attraction in a commercial for the new Vega.

VW wants to put the diesel scandal in its past. It’s had a come-to-Jesus moment, the ad tells viewers, and here are the results of that epiphany — the clean, green MEB-platform vehicles due to pour forth from Europe (and eventually Tennessee) in the coming years.

Apparently, VW is the George Wallace of brands.

Cynical? Inspired? You make the call.

[Images: Volkswagen/ YouTube]

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  • Rrhyne56 Rrhyne56 on Jun 06, 2019

    They don't need double talk, they need Bobloblaw

  • Sportyaccordy Sportyaccordy on Jun 06, 2019

    I'm still not convinced that the BEV revolution will come. VWAG is staking its rebrand on tech w/no supply chain. The e-Tron quattro is already delayed due to battery supply issues. What they should have done is go all in on hybrids. Frustratingly what little hybridization they're doing is inefficient and poorly implemented. Whole thing is a huge mess.

    • Mcs Mcs on Jun 06, 2019

      Well, Toyota is now jumping into the BEV fray with ten vehicles and VW has a growing list of preorders for their BEV. EVs are really fantastic vehicles to drive. Once you've driven one, it's hard to go back to a torque-lag plagued ICE. That quiet and smoothness is something that once you get used to it, you won't go back.

  • Nrd515 I bought an '88 S10 Blazer with the 4.3. We had it 4 years and put just about 48K on it with a bunch of trips to Nebraska and S. Dakota to see relatives. It had a couple of minor issues when new, a piece of trim fell off the first day, and it had a seriously big oil leak soon after we got it. The amazinly tiny starter failed at about 40K, it was fixed under some sort of secret warranty and we got a new Silverado as a loaner. Other than that, and a couple of tires that blew when I ran over some junk on the road, it was a rock. I hated the dash instrumentation, and being built like a gorilla, it was about an inch and a half too narrow for my giant shoulders, but it drove fine, and was my second most trouble free vehicle ever, only beaten by my '82 K5 Blazer, which had zero issues for nearly 50K miles. We sold the S10 to a friend, who had it over 20 years and over 400,000 miles on the original short block! It had a couple of transmissions, a couple of valve jobs, a rear end rebuild at 300K, was stolen and vandalized twice, cut open like a tin can when a diabetic truck driver passed out(We were all impressed at the lack of rust inside the rear quarters at almost 10 years old, and it just went on and on. Ziebart did a good job on that Blazer. All three of his sons learned to drive in it, and it was only sent to the boneyard when the area above the windshield had rusted to the point it was like taking a shower when it rained. He now has a Jeep that he's put a ton of money into. He says he misses the S10's reliablity a lot these days, the Jeep is in the shop a lot.
  • Jeff S Most densely populated areas have emission testing and removing catalytic converters and altering pollution devices will cause your vehicle to fail emission testing which could effect renewing license plates. In less populated areas where emission testing is not done there would probably not be any legal consequences and the converter could either be removed or gutted both without having to buy specific parts for bypassing emissions. Tampering with emission systems would make it harder to resell a vehicle but if you plan on keeping the vehicle and literally running it till the wheels fall off there is not much that can be done if there is no emission testing. I did have a cat removed on a car long before mandatory emission testing and it did get better mpgs and it ran better. Also had a cat gutted on my S-10 which was close to 20 years old which increased performance and efficiency but that was in a state that did not require emission testing just that reformulated gas be sold during the Summer months. I would probably not do it again because after market converters are not that expensive on older S-10s compared to many of the newer vehicles. On newer vehicles it can effect other systems that are related to the operating and the running of the vehicle. A little harder to defeat pollution devices on newer vehicles with all the systems run by microprocessors but if someone wants to do it they can. This law could be addressing the modified diesels that are made into coal rollers just as much as the gasoline powered vehicles with cats. You probably will still be able to buy equipment that would modify the performance of a vehicles as long as the emission equipment is not altered.
  • ToolGuy I wonder if Vin Diesel requires DEF.(Does he have issues with Sulfur in concentrations above 15ppm?)
  • ToolGuy Presented for discussion:
  • Kevin Ford can do what it's always done. Offer buyouts to retirement age employees, and transfers to operating facilities to those who aren't retirement age. Plus, the transition to electric isn't going to be a finger snap one time event. It's going to occur over a few model years. What's a more interesting question is: Where will today's youth find jobs in the auto industry given the lower employment levels?