A look at VW’s Ads: Why we feel so violated by the scandal

As I’m sure many people know, Volkswagen’s scandal of cheating emissions tests using a “defeat device” on about 11 million cars led to a 2.4 million car diesel car recall.  Of the cars recalled, 540 000 will need hardware changes, an immediate fix, while the rest will take longer to alter.  The cars have software inside the engines that detects when they are being tested and improves the results of the tests.

“The Problem”

As details continue to be released on this scandal, I find the lack of information released by VW on these “rogue engineers” that used this emissions cheating software to be highly suspicious.  I understand VW is trying to salvage what is left of their reputation, stating that it was not a corporate decision to cheat (who would admit that?!), but my faith in the company is extremely shaken.  Right now, German regulators are searching other companies to see if there has been cheating across the market.

VW stock since the scandal

VW stock since the scandal

The details of the scope and effect of the scandal has not been fully revealed, but their value proposition through marketing just blew up.  The “clean car” market is rapidly expanding with the emergence of Tesla and large auto manufacturers developing their own electric cars (BMW, Nissan, Hyundai, GM).  VW’s line of “clean diesel”, which sold to consumers because they believed that it was a healthier, less damaging car is shattered and the effect will probably affect the entire clean car market.  It will affect the sales of diesel cars, regardless of their technological advancements in developing clean diesel, which is a shame.

I have been looking at some of the past ads run by VW and the focal point of all these ads are clean diesel.  They would have been great ads, if they were not fraudulent.  I felt extremely cheated and violated that VW was able to sell so many cars under these pretenses.  Of course there were other reasons, like the scale and effect of their lies, but looking at these ads, you can see why we are appalled at the news.

VW tries to prove that they are a new kind of technology - clean diesel
VW tries to prove that they are a new kind of technology – clean diesel

VW’s strategy centered around trying to break the belief that diesel is dirty and outdated, an evoked concept in many potential consumers.  They imply that their diesel engines are a new generation, different from the past, that is no longer this dirty fuel that we believe it to be.  The new diesel was supposed to be clean and efficient, almost something too good to be true.  Commonly held beliefs are hard to overcome and usually need a lot of support.  Thus, trust is a key component of the success of some of these ads.

Advertising their #1 standing
Advertising their #1 standing
Using the appeal of experts and statistics
Using the appeal of experts and statistics

The use of “Manufacturers’ published data” and the perceived transparency are supposed to incite trust in the consumer.  To overcome the barriers to adoption, VW offers up their vast amount of research to reassure you that the car you consider to buy is legitimately clean diesel.  They use words like “family” to infer trust, and to show that their cars have a common theme: clean.

Probably the worst image to show after the scandal
Probably the worst image to show after the scandal
Ads promote fun, modernity and breaking old-fashioned concepts
Ads promote fun, modernity and breaking old-fashioned concepts

Looking back to the ad with the engine, as well as the one above, VW promotes a fun, new way to approach diesel cars.  VW makes you feel old-fashioned when you hold the beliefs that diesel cars are sluggish, dirty, or loud.  The ads are meant to make you feel like you are a little ignorant if you still believe that diesel is dirty (but it is!).  There is an exaggeration that we all expect in ads, but the scandal disrupted the central themes throughout all their ads, clean and efficient.

We feel violated because we believed the advertising and we trusted VW; we started to change our views about diesel, only to have it thrown back in our faces.  The trust that we developed was with diesel, not VW, but the VW scandal will affect how we all view diesel.

Here are a few satirical negative advertising pictures I found, making light of the issue (or not).

A clever post

“The Emissions”

Rant ended.


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