A few months ago, Volkswagen faced now well-known environmental scandal that stirred international controversy and attracted extensive media coverage. The company installed, as it was discovered, false devices to hide the actual amount of emissions and cheat on controls. Nevertheless, the company marketed their cars in the US as environmentally friendly while cars actually produced 40 time more emissions than legally permitted (Hotten, 2015).
On 3 February, however, Volkswagen launched its first UK’s brand campaign in a clear attempt to overcome the scandal and re-brand the company. As pointed out by Brand Republic (Swift, 2016), the company is clearly trying to rebuild trust among consumers. The motto of the campaign is “Volkswagen. Then. Now. Always”.
However, this ad is more than that. It is a clear emotional appeal to customers emphasising Volkswagen is more than just a car, but a way of living and a tradition that generations grew up with. In the new campaign we are looking at major events in life of one man, from his childhood until starting his own family. The family always owned different Volkswagen vehicles, and many of the happiest memories are attached to the car, e.g. wedding, family vacations, landscapes seen from the car, etc. Towards the end of the advert, the boy is a father and his son is also looking from Volkswagen’s car full of curiosity like his father used to do from another Volkswagen’s car.
Apart from rebuilding trust, this emotional appeal is also trying to say that the company is more than just this one scandal that stirred controversy. The advert is clearly trying to remind customers of all Volkswagen cars they have enjoyed in the past, and all the good times they had while driving Volkswagen’s, i.e. the advert is trying to bring memories of nights out, family vacations, weddings, etc.
The Impact of Negative PR Against Volkswagen on the Industry as a Whole
The fact the campaign is launched in the UK first and then it plans to continue in other European countries is not a coincidence. Even though all media in the world debated false environmental reports from the corporation discovered in the United States (while investigation in European countries remains open), it is the British media that are generally hostile to all forms of cheating and business in general.
Research data shows that British media express hostility towards business and push for more corporate social responsibility, a trend that increased since the turn of a new millennium (Grafström & Windell, 2011; Grayson, 2009; Tench et al, 2007). At the same time, the British Government has considered introducing more obligations towards companies despite the fact public liable companies already have an obligation to introduce CSR (Department for Business Innovation and Skills, 2014).
Rebuilding trust and extensive campaigning are needed not just to overcome the scandal, because while large corporations are not invincible, they do overcome scandals eventually. It is enough to think of Shell to realise that with the right communication strategy and introduction of more responsible policy even a major scandal can be overcome (Tench et al, 2014).
What is important in Volkswagen’s case is the damage this scandal has brought to the industry as a whole. It is well known that the industry invested billions in production and promotion of diesel cars, as it was believed they produce less emissions (Hotten, 2015). With the discovery that Volkswagen had to cheat to hide how much emissions their diesel vehicles produce, many environmentally conscious customers might switch to petrol and then eventually the electric cars. This can ultimately bring an unimaginable damage to the industry as a whole.
The new advert is not a bad attempt to appeal to customers emotionally. At the end of the day, what else could Volkswagen do at the moment other than try to remind customers that Volkswagen is more than just this one scandal, and hope that customers will not turn their back on them, especially in environmentally conscious markets such as US and the UK.
Thank you for reading.
Department for Business Innovation and Skills (2014). Corporate Responsibility: Good for Business & Society:Government response to call for views on corporate responsibility. Retrieved 10 February 2016 from: https://my.leedsbeckett.ac.uk/bbcswebdav/pid-1104821-dt-content-rid-3223621_1/courses/XLM_00001_1516/bis-14-651-good-for-business-and-society-government-response-to-call-for-views-on-corporate-responsibility.pdf
Grafström, M., & Windell, K. (2011). The Role of Infomediaries: CSR in the Business Press During 2000-2009. Journal of Business Ethics 103, 221-237.
Grayson, D. (2009). Corporate responsibility and the media. Doughty Centre Corporate Responsibility. Retrieved 26 March 2015 from: http://www.som.cranfield.ac.uk/som/dinamic-content/research/doughty/crandthemediafinal.pdf
Hotten, R. (2015). Volkswagen: The scandal explained. Retrieved 10 February 2016 from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-34324772
Swift, J. (2016). Volkswagen seeks to rebuild trust with new brand campaign. Retrieved 9 February 2016 from: http://www.brandrepublic.com/article/volkswagen-seeks-rebuild-trust-new-brand-campaign/1382301
Tench, R.; Sun. W.; Jones, B. (2014). Introduction: CSR Communication as an emerging field of study (pp. 3-25). In R. Tench; W. Sun, & B. Jones (Eds.), Communicating Corporate Social Responsibility: Perspectives and Practice. Howard House: Emerald.
Tench, R.; Bowd, R., & Jones, B. (2007). Perceptions and perspectives: corporate social responsibility and the media. Journal of Communication Management 11(4), 348-370.