As recently as last week, Wired magazine on social media was touting content sponsored by Volkswagen about "how diesel was re-engineered." But this week -- just as VW faces growing scrutiny over software installed on its diesel vehicles that evades emissions tests -- previously published links to the branded content are no longer working.
A reference to the program is still visible on the "Clean Diesel" section of VW's web site. Under a sub-section called "Diesel Gets WIRED" the site states that "Volkswagen and Wired Brand Lab have created an experience that will inform, educate, surprise, and change the way you think about diesel," while teasing content that describes "how a once unloved engine has cleaned up its act."
But the link urging viewers to "visit the Wired experience" was yielding only an error message as of Tuesday.
(Update: the entire Clean Diesel section if VW's site now yields a 404 error.)
Wired had been promoting the content on one of its official Twitter handles on Sept. 15, urging followers to "learn how #diesel was re-engineered" as "@WIREDInsider and @ VW uncover how it became cleaner and more future-forward." The link embedded in the tweet produced only an error message on Tuesday.
The VW site makes clear that the program was "produced by the advertising department of Wired and sponsored by Volkswagen."
A Wired spokesman declined to comment. A VW spokeswoman did not respond to en email requesting comment.
The situation seems to demonstrate another way sponsored content sometimes plays by different rules than journalistic content, which is almost never removed.
As Ad Age reported earlier this year, the Wired Brand Lab is an in-house shop that works with advertisers on story-telling and events.
The program kicked off in March when Nokia paid Wired to produce an editorial-style website called MakeTechHuman that aimed to "start a conversation about where technology is taking humanity." The program was scheduled to last a year and was valued as a multi-million dollar campaign.
It is an inopportune time to be touting VW's diesel technology, considering the unfolding scandal.
On Tuesday, Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, called on the FTC to probe whether VW's advertising of the environmental benefits of its "clean diesels" fell under laws prohibiting unfair or deceptive practices.
VW faces other investigations, including by the EPA and California's Air Resources Board, over how the automaker allegedly duped regulators and violated clean air rules by installing software intended to evade emissions tests. About 11 million Volkswagen vehicles worldwide have diesel engines with software "irregularities."
The issue has gained widespread media attention. Some of that coverage has come on Wired's regular site, wired.com, which on Tuesday posted a story titled "VW Could Fool the EPA, But It Couldn't Trick Chemistry."
The story neatly summed up what it described as VW's "alleged cover-up," as it described how automakers have for decades been "caught between building an engine that squeezes a lot of energy out of the fuel it burns and one that has low emissions."
When engineers at Volkswagen allegedly inserted a few lines of code into the diesel cars' electronic brains to circumvent emissions testing, they found a solution to this existential automotive conflict. Drivers got low emissions during the test, and high performance the rest of the time. The only problem: It's way outside of the rules. The company might have gotten away with it, too, if it hadn't been for those pesky engineers—and the basic chemistry of the diesel engine.