Posted by: David Welch on October 11, 2006
This past Sunday, I was watching the Steelers turn in what is fast becoming a typically limp performance, and on comes the latest Volkswagen ad. They have Guns ‘n Roses guitarist Slash—wearing his signature top hat—jamming out a few bluesy riffs on a cool black and white guitar. Instead of an amp, he is playing tunes through the speakers of a few Volkswagens. It’s pretty cool.
What’s even better is that if you buy any Volkswagen 2007 model between now and December 31, you get a free First Act GarageMaster guitar—the same one Slash plays in the ad. It’s a nice custom six-string with chrome VW knobs. The guitar is worth $600 and can’t be had unless you buy a Volkswagen. What a promotion!
If you play the guitar, that is. And only if you’re a 30-something who not only remembers Guns and Roses, but wasn’t repulsed by them back in the late ‘80s. Personally, I liked their raw garage heavy metal 20 year ago. They became a sensation and drew fans from outside the usual heavy metal crowd. The nihilistic lawlessness of Slash and singer Axl Rose took center stage in rock the way the Sex Pistols legends Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious did a decade before.
But none of that will sell cars, not even to the nostalgia buffs who cling to the ‘80s albums they listened to back in high school. A VW spokesman admitted that Slash is passé. So is actor Christopher Guest, who played Nigel in the film “This is Spinal Tap.” He also appears in some ads. John Mayer, a more contemporary artist, is in some of the others. So VW thinks they have all of the key generations covered.
I’ll concede that there is a certain musically-aware hipness to the ads. But that’s where I part company. No one will be wowed by a collection of C list musicians and personalities. Nor will lay down $20,000 for a car just because they can get a cool special edition guitar. Would someone thinking about buying a Honda Civic switch to a VW Rabbit or Jetta just to get a guitar? Seriously. Do these people really believe that someone would buy a car just to get a $600 guitar? There may be some guitar collector out that who will race to do it. But I’m thinking this marketing partnership won’t cost Boston-based First Act too much in free guitars.
So why run this campaign? I think it’s a case where the VW marketers and maybe the creative people at their ad firm spend too much time listening to their iPods and thinking about how hip they are rather than finding ways to really get people to shop their vehicles. VW has 1.4% market share in the U.S.—two-thirds what it was in 2000. They need to quit acting so cool and find better ways to move some metal.
Here’s an idea. Instead of buying guitars—which admittedly look really cool—maybe VW could put the $600 toward better warranties. Consumers have gotten wind that VW’s quality is weak. Standing behind their reliability would get VW plenty of mileage with anyone. Free guitars reaches a small cadre of music folk. What’s next? A free set of bagpipes if you purchase a Passat?