Posted by: David Kiley on February 1, 2008
Volkswagen, once again, appears to be turning to the Beetle to boost its fortunes.
Automotive News reported that a new brand campaign from Volkswagen hitting the airwaves and other media in February will feature a classic Beetle that talks, named “Max,” who plays the role of a talk-show host.
It is part of an advertising overhaul in which VW is changing its ad slogan to “Das Auto.” It had been using “Drivers Wanted” for more than a decade, but agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky has been de-emphasizing the line.
Of course, the Beetle is the undeniable iconic representation of the Volkswagen brand. In the early 1990s when Volkswagen’s future in the U.S. was so much in doubt because of tanking sales, it was the concept-car design of what became the “New Beetle” that saved Volkswagen. The debut of the concept, which led to the production car being sold today, generated so much attention and goodwill around the VW brand that people flocked to VW dealerships even before the car went on sale in 1999. After that, many went to VW dealerships to see the New Beetle, but manay went away with the Jettas and Passats.
Volkswagen in Germany has long been ambivalent about the Beetle. To many German executives, the car represents Germany’s past, and a dark past. The Beetle, of course, was hatched as Hitler’s “people’s car.” After the war, the cars dominated German streets, as well as those of other European countries. It became the top import sold in the U.S. in the 1960s and early 1970s. As beloved as the car was, German car executives by the late 1960s and 70s were anxious to turn the page on the utilitarian little car. It went out of production for the U.S. in 1979, but continued to be sold in developing markets—notably Mexico, where it was still built until 2003. But the car’s story has never been far from the surface of the brand no matter what the company does in terms of new products and marketing.
Today, VW is losing close to $1 billion a year in the U.S. And sales have fallen by more than 100,000 units a year in the last few years. The company no has a bold product and sales plans that calls for many more products for the U.S. market and 800,000 sales a year by 2018.
New Volkswagen America chief Stefan Jacoby has said that he plans to drive a refurbishment of the current New Beetle, and not turn the brand’s back on its Beetle heritage.
I’ll reserve judgment on the ads until I actually see them. But I’m wondering, without a fresh New Beetle design, how effective resurrecting the classic Beetle will be in driving VW’s sales. Part of the problem, as I have seen it, with VW’s marketing is a lack of consistency. In 2006, the company went from a funny campaign for the GTI featuring a blonde domintrix named Helga and effete engineer named Wolfgang to startling ads showing how well VW’s withstood side-impact crashes. Then there was a baffling effort featuring heavy-metal rocker Slash offering free guitars with cars.
I think the public has lost the plot with the VW brand.
And when they go to the Internet to comparison shop, they don’t find favorable ratings for quality, reliability and service. That is in stark contrast to the experience most people remember with their classic Beetles.