Many members of the automotive mish-mash feel that the the PR side of Volkswagen has gotten some of the worst flack during the whole “Dieselgate” scandal. So in order to offset some negative public perceptions, Reuters reports that Volkswagen is planning an “image offensive,” and the globally recognized “Das Auto” advertising slogan will more than likely be the first thing to get the ax.
First introduced back in 2007, Volkswagen’s catch phrase has been a highly successful one for being simple, precise, and oh-so German (it translates directly to “The Car”). But as clever as it may be, some feel that it lacks humility — a virtue that Volkswagen needs now more than ever given the state of affairs, with negative connotations causing spokesmen to admit to Reuters that “Das Auto” will likely no longer accompany the VW badge in forthcoming advertising campaigns.
“Wherever our logo appears in future, it will be backed by the new brand slogan ‘Volkswagen,'” the spokesman reportedly said. “The slogan will be rolled out in stages across the world.”
Well, it isn’t the most creative slogan we’ve ever heard, but after all of the lying, denying, cover ups, and missteps, a bit of transparency might be just what the doctor ordered. This new ad campaign, discussed the other week during a closed-door meeting of 2,000 group managers, is designed to be a reputation booster. While the Volkswagen group owns everything from Bugatti to Ducati, and Lamborghini to Audi, saving the VW brand remains priority No. 1 at this point. Volkswagen brand chief Herbert Diess described the old slogan as something that suggests VW alone defines what the modern motor car may be, with words like “absolutist” and “pretentious” being used as descriptors.
But pretentiousness is not the only reason the company wants to change things up. According to Reuters’ insider, another reason the old slogan is getting retired is that it fails to “convey VW’s technological ambitions in areas such as electrically-powered vehicles.” But if you are going to save a company, there had better be some fresh faces to go with that shiny new branding strategy.
After VW’s old boss Martin Winterkorn got canned on September 23, new chief executive Matthias Mueller was put in charge after a successful stint with Porsche. According to Reuters, Mueller’s first Q&A news conference on the scandal earlier this month highlights that VW is “a little less defensive,” and is becoming interested once more in creating events rather than merely reacting to them.
However, there have been some inconsistencies that might make some cast a suspicious eye. First dismissing a German media report that Winterkorn would be replaced by Mueller as “nonsense,” only to do exactly that the following day, VW started off on the wrong foot by insulting German journalists. Then, in November, its Audi division denied that 3.0-liter models had been outfitted with illegal emissions programming, only to admit three weeks later that they did indeed sport this contraband software.
It has taken VW almost three full months to hold its first news conference, as prior media events typically revolved around Mueller coming out to read carefully worded statements, and then departing the pressroom prior to answering any questions. But this time around, Volkswagen’s chief executive took his time, answered questions, offered some transparency, and showcased the softer, more forward-facing side of the German automotive firm. Or so we hope.
Simply swapping out head honchos and slogans and fixing emissions cheating issues will only get you so far, and in the case of Volkswagen, both the public and the government still demand answers and accountability. Rather than forcing Winterkorn to stick around to face the music and take the blame, Mueller suddenly became the face of the company, a move that turned an unknowing executive into a PR punching bag almost overnight.
Robert Haigh, communications director at Brand Finance, a London-based brand valuation consultancy, sums it up best: “They jumped on it a bit quickly by pushing Winterkorn out of the door, so the scope for him to take the flak was limited.” But who knows, maybe a company rebranding with fresh slogans and faces will be enough to put Volkswagen back on track, and maybe then we can get back to focusing on what makes the German automaker so significant: building top-tier cars that billions recognize and love.