VW's Marketing Takes Another Hairpin Turn

Emotion-Focused Effort Replaces the Carmaker's Short-Lived Value Push

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DETROIT (AdAge.com) -- Volkswagen hopes to spread summer love beyond the bug.

The automaker's new campaign from Crispin Porter & Bogusky aims to communicate the emotional experience of being inside its cars with the tagline, "When you get into a Volkswagen, it gets into you."
Latest work features a tow-truck operator who becomes enamored with the GTI he's supposed to be moving.
Latest work features a tow-truck operator who becomes enamored with the GTI he's supposed to be moving.

That's a big switch from Volkswagen of America's most recent price pitch -- "three V-dubs for under $17,000" -- that set out to bust consumer perception that its vehicles cost too much.

The strategy worked well in some regions (East and West) and for some models (the Rabbit) but not for the Beetle, said Adrian Hallmark, exec VP, Volkswagen of America. "We found a drop in the price of a Beetle did not increase desirability," he said, indicating a one-size-fits-all approach wasn't the answer. "Shouting three for under $17,000 hasn't helped, so we are not going to try to compensate for what we are not."

Wilco wagon
What it is, Volkswagen thinks, is transformative. To convey that theme, it has prepared six national TV spots about to break, and each will use a different song from Wilco's new album, "Sky Blue Sky." Andrew Keller, executive creative director at Crispin, said the words line up well with the VW brand.

In one of the first commercials, a tow-truck driver who enters a GTI he intends to tow is so enchanted he moves the car only a few feet -- out of the no-parking zone.

Mr. Keller said the value-model campaign was "an important step along the way," but he maintains that the brand's core value is that it's fun to drive.
Adrian Hallmark, exec VP, Volkswagen of America, said that his company's previous value-driven campaign was not altogether successful.
Adrian Hallmark, exec VP, Volkswagen of America, said that his company's previous value-driven campaign was not altogether successful.

Observers, however, are scratching their heads at yet another hairpin marketing turn at VW. Independent auto consultant Gordon Wangers said this latest shift "is an example of where VW is hyperactive in marketing. You can't keep track of their slogan or mission." He recommended VW give the value-pricing ads more time to generate consumer awareness.

Todd Turner, president of CarConcepts, was equally surprised to hear VW is dropping the value-focused ads, since the brand's "biggest perceptual problem is people think VWs are too pricey."

Future upheaval?
And there might be more change on the way. Mr. Keller said the new ads are a summer campaign, noting that "it's hard to say if there will be something new after that." And Mr. Hallmark is close to hiring a new marketing director to replace Kerri Martin, with an appointment expected within weeks.

Before Ms. Martin left VW in January, the brand's ads generated the most buzz and press in the industry. But since her departure, VW ads haven't attracted much attention.

Mr. Hallmark said the carmaker decided to "save our gunpowder" for national ads until the second part of the year.

VW spent just $19 million in measured U.S. media in the first two months of 2007 and $241 million in calendar 2006, according to TNS Media Intelligence.

Volkswagen follows a winding ad road

February 2006: Introduces "Fast" doll online and in ads featuring lab-coated German "engineer" and the line "Unpimp mein auto."

April 2006: Introduces jarring "Safety Happens" push, showing Jettas getting slammed into by other vehicles.

May 2006: "Low-ego emissions" for Passat shows drivers in other German cars shouting arrogantly into megaphones.

May 2006: TV spots feature a lederhosen-wearing spokesman next to a white Jetta, saying, "Stereotyping is stupid."

June 2006: Rabbit spots show two cars -- one white and one black -- multiplying like bunnies.

October 2006: Free-guitar incentive for buyers of Jettas, Rabbits, GTIs and Beetles; TV spots feature Slash and John Mayer.

February-May 2007: "Three V-dubs for under $17,000" touts versions of Beetle, Jetta & Rabbit.
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