Volkswagen’s April Fool’s joke last week didn’t go according to plan. According to an Automotive News report, the automaker’s marketing agency came up with the idea of rebranding Volkswagen of America to Voltswagen as a joke, and it was approved by top executives. The idea behind the plan was to bring awareness to the brand’s new ID.4 electric SUV, but the plan’s execution was the problem.
Johannes Leonardo, Volkswagen’s lead marketing agency, developed the plan weeks ago. A fake, unfinished press release about the pending name was posted on its media site for about an hour on Monday, March 29. An email with the link to the fake press release was sent to several high-profile journalists from an anonymous Gmail account.
This is where it seems the plan took a turn for the worse and why some media outlets believe VW did this to deceive journalists and/or the public. When journalists questioned VW spokesman Mark Gillies about the name change, he assured them it was a joke. Well, a day later VW posted another version of the same release that quoted Scott Keogh, Volkswagen Group of America CEO, celebrating the name Voltswagen. That obviously confused everyone.
Voltswagen Is Already Use
Internally, Voltswagen is nothing new. According to the Automotive News report, Reinhard Fischer, a senior vice president with VW Group of America who leads brand strategy, likes the name and has used it in presentations. What's more interesting is the fact that the Voltswagen name has already been in use by the automaker in the UK since the ID.3 electric car was launched there. If Volkswagen wanted to create an EV sub-brand in the US, Voltswagen wouldn't be that bad of an idea, but it appears they decided to make it a joke instead.
Automotive News Is Not Happy
In the report, Automotive News admits the joke did generate attention but thinks it hurt the brand's credibility:
“While marketing experts and dealers admit that the phony pronouncement and subsequent fallout did generate buzz about VW's new EV — the ID4 — it also contradicted years of effort to restore the company's tattered public credibility following the diesel emissions crisis.”
When Mark Gillies assured reporters the name change was a joke after saying it wasn’t, the report said the automaker lied to the public and brought up the Dieselgate scandal from 2015:
“It was, in fact, all a lie — propagated by the same company that pleaded guilty to felonies in 2017 for a long-running conspiracy of lying to regulators about how much pollution its "clean diesel" vehicles were illegally sending into the air.” “At some point internally, VW's top management decided that the risk of brazenly misleading reporters and the public — again — was worth the potential reward. And they might be right,” the report continued.
The report also stated:
“Yet the decision to proceed with the Voltswagen stunt ran counter to years of claims that the automaker's history of intentional falsehoods was in the past.”
Was This A Malicious Plan?
Likely not, just a plan gone terribly wrong that upset many reporters. I highly doubt VW did this out of any malice. I’m under the impression the joke didn’t go according to plan and there was likely some miscommunication between the marketing team and top executives.
Keogh admitted that “his regret with the whole incident was the execution.”
"When you light a match like this, in the environment, and it gets us, you know, as much traction as it did, you're just not able to control everything — every phone call, every text, every email, every engagement, every back and forth," the CEO said.” “But the idea came from a very Volkswagen place: Let's have some fun. Let's have a gag. Let's show the world how crazy we are about EVs. Full stop,” he continued.
According to the report, John Luciano, former chairman for the Volkswagen Dealer Advisory Council, “thought the stunt was harmless and raised awareness of the ID4.” Karen Doyne, a crisis communications expert at Doyne Strategies, said the plan created millions of headlines and brought awareness to the automaker’s EV, and that “consumers wouldn't find VW's actions offensive or be "turned off" by them.” I agree with her.
If VW’s plan had a simpler execution, for example, simply posting the press release on April Fools Day (like most automaker’s do), then this probably wouldn’t have happen, but at the same time, it likely wouldn’t have gotten as much attention. VW took a gamble and got some bad press coverage, but in the end, I don’t think it hurt the brand’s image much at all.
What do you all think? Did the joke hurt Volkswagen's image? Please comment below.