Green Sky Thinking: Das auto dishonest
by Colwyn Elder (@colwynelder) My first car was a Volkswagen. We were a Volkswagen family. And I still drive a VW 25 years later. That’s brand love for you. And, as a much-loved brand, the consequences of VW’s Dieselgate scandal are far-reaching.
From a company perspective, VW lost one-fifth of its market value almost immediately. Fines in the US could add up to more than a year’s nett profit, and managers potentially face criminal charges. Then there’s the loss of future sales; and the disastrous effect upon brand reputation, which in turn is likely to have a ripple effect across the automotive industry at large, most notably affecting those marques built on the long-standing trust and respect of German engineering.
Breach of trust
The greater the love, the more acutely we feel a breach of trust and, in this case, consumer trust in business, and brands as a whole, is likely to be challenged.
From an advertising perspective, and I recall many much-loved VW ads (“Memories” in particular is a soundtrack to my youth), the scandal calls to question an already tenuous trust in the industry to “tell the truth”. Furthermore, it erodes all the recent good work achieved by sustainability communications in convincing a somewhat cynical consumer.
When we communicate the values, purpose and promises of our clients’ brands, we rely upon their honesty. Our job is to tell their brands’ stories in the most compelling way. And, while we may challenge them on those elements of brand strategy that inform their communications — such as rational and emotional product benefits, brand-image attributes, consumer insights, and those oh-so-important RTBs (reasons to believe) — it is not our role to scrutinise their supply chains or check off emissions testing.
Central tenet of its marketing
Volkswagen’s commitment to the environment has been a central tenet of its marketing and advertising. The much-loved and -shared VW Fun Theory campaign began as a brief for BlueMotion Technologies, a series of cars and innovations meant to help reduce environmental impact without compromising upon performance or the joy of driving. Where the campaign ended up was so much bigger, challenging the worthiness so often associated with a sustainable choice and reframing it as “fun”: subway stairs were transformed into a piano, a bottle recycling center into an arcade game, and a rubbish bin into a 50ft-deep well, with sound effects.
The campaign took on a life of its own and consumer uptake culminated in the Fun Theory Awards, for which people could submit their own ideas on how to change human behavior, and the world, for the better. Ironically, this success now makes VW look even more hypocritical, and the scandal that much more difficult to shrug off.
Finally, beyond all of this, are those consequences that remain largely unseen and unspoken, yet amount to significant costs to our personal and environmental health. The BP oil spill was catastrophic and unacceptable, but somehow more palatable. And that VW is hiring those very same lawyers BP used to defend its emissions case simply sours the love even further.
“The People’s Car”. “Think Small”. “Think Blue”.
Strategic consultant Colwyn Elder (@colwynelder) brings a global perspective to the issue of sustainability, having lived and worked in London, Tokyo, Amsterdam and Cape Town. She contributes the monthly “Green Sky Thinking” column on sustainability issues to MarkLives.
— MarkLives’ round-up of top ad and media industry news and opinion in your mailbox every Monday and Thursday. Sign up here!