Lies, Brand Lies and Statistics

VW’s Emissions

 

The power of social media celebrity eh?

Take Teresa, Josie and Mary: one minute you’re a minor YouTube celebrity, the next you’re responsible for the imminent demise of the German Automobile industry and sending an entire nation into panic. How Wunderbar. It’s like Justin Bieber bringing down OPEC, and setting in motion some oil-starved dystopia.

After finding fame posting a video of themselves watching the Kim Kardashian sex tape (a kind of really grim version of Gogglebox) the ‘Golden Sisters’ found themselves fronting the latest TV campaign for Volkswagen in America. A campaign that could see the emissions scandal cut far deeper into VW’s brand value in the USA, than here in the UK.

Most people, while not accepting, are at least acclimatised to companies being somewhat opaque and rather selective with their stats. But when an organisation betrays its brand relationship with customers, that’s when the real damage happens.

In the UK, at least, brand VW has always had a well-defined relationship with consumers. A relationship based on mutual respect and appreciation. The People’s Car treated consumers like real people: people with wit and intelligence; logical, practical, clever and considered – just like VW cars themselves.

VW advertising never tried to hypnotise you showing cars carving through switchbacks to some classic rock, or try and make you briefly believe that owning one would make you (and your partner) more beautiful. VW ads have always been smart, knowing and, even, funny – which we love, because we’re all in on the joke.

So maybe here in the UK, brand-wise, we’d all be happy to let the emission things go, right?

Let’s make a massive assumption that most people who buy a diesel car don’t really care too much about emissions. They care about how it drives, the mpg and, yes, the emissions thing is very nice when it lowers your vehicle tax.

It’s not a bad assumption. After all, someone at VW made it. They not only made it, they made the technology to make it happen too. So we get a car that performs well, reduces fuel bills and where it matters (in testing) gives us a vehicle tax friendly emission readout. How clever is that? A bit naughty, yes. But VW are a clever brand for clever people, after all. So we might, just might forgive them.

In the USA however, it’s a different (brand) story.

Americans don’t do diesel. So in a push to convert consumers to make the switch, the latest VW campaigns set about re-educating the audience. The brand was no longer about sharing, knowing truths; it was about trying to sell-in new ones. And because the audience had complete faith and trust in the brand, they were happy to believe clever VW’s clever claims.

Now it turns out VW were cheating the emissions test. But worse than that, in the USA, they cheated on the relationship with their consumers. They deliberately set out to mislead them. They betrayed that brand trust.

In time, people may have forgiven the car thing. But when a brand takes you for a ride, that takes some getting over.

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