It’s no secret that VW had a complicated 2015. The moment the emissions scandal struck, the brand jolted to a halt and shifted into damage control mode.
As soon as news flooded in from Germany, all creative comms were put on hold. Campaigns, which were set to run, were pulled, and VW instead focused on addressing the bigger issue at hand. And this was obviously quite unfortunate for FCB, which shortly prior had picked up the account.
Until now, the agency has played a background role, assisting the brand in navigating through what must go down as the biggest PR nightmare of last year.
And while FCB continues to assist in this regard, VW recently also felt the time was right to release its first local TVC since the scandal.
The latest spot marks a change in direction from the campaign that VW launched via Colenso BBDO last year, featuring a series of children developing bespoke speedometers for their parents.
Rather than telling a long-form story, the new campaign shifts attention to the quality of the product in a shorter, more conventional spot.
Showing off the towing ability of the new Volkswagen Passat Alltrack, the spot features Olympic sailors Peter Burling and Blair Tuke having a laugh at the misfortune of their friend.
“The car has so many great features, but we settled on its towing power because this is really something that will resonate with Kiwis,” says VW New Zealand general manager Tom Ruddenklau.
Ruddenklau says that the use of the Olympic athletes was important because it ties VW's sponsorship of the New Zealand Olympic team into the overall brand message.
Releasing a campaign at this stage does carry some risks. The wounds from the scandal are still fresh and there are still some Kiwis—quite often the most vocal on social media—who are angry that the brand could’ve allowed this to happen.
“Look, we still have a lot of work ahead of us,” says Ruddenklau.
“But you’ve just got to get on with it. What we need to do is show that there’s still confidence in the brand.”
Ruddenklau says the process of rebuilding trust will take time, but he takes encouragement from the fact that sales picked up over December and January.
“We’ve just had a record month of Passat Alltrack sales with 81 units sold,” Ruddenklau says.
This does, however, come off the back of a tough few months, which culminated in overall sales for the year dipping from 3900 in 2014 to 3780 last year (October and November were particularly tough months last year).
“There has been a lot of deferring,” Ruddenklau said in an earlier chat with NZ Marketing. “Customers are sitting and waiting, quite rightly. They’ll sit, wait and see. A brand is defined by a series of promises and whether those promises are kept or not. So there will be some customers figuring out whether we are going to keep the promises that the brand stands for, and for some that might take a period of time but for others it might be quite short.”
At the time, Ruddenklau also said that advertising would play a crucial role in winning back customers’ trust.
“Brand communications are absolutely vital for re-instating what our brand stands for … In terms of the style and tone of our communications, it’s about keeping it simple and sticking to our DNA, because that’s what people know and love. And you’ve got to be careful you don’t try and reinvent yourself. You’ve got to be authentic. Again, what would a good mate do? A good mate wouldn’t try to change. He wouldn’t go and dye his hair, get a new suit and change jobs. A good mate would continue to be authentic, because that’s what you knew and loved about them beforehand.”