VW Is Back on the Air, Now It Must Reclaim Trust

'They've Got to Fix These Cars and They've Got to Make These Owners Whole'

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A VW ad starring Adam Scott promotes App Connect.
A VW ad starring Adam Scott promotes App Connect. Credit: Volkswagen

Volkswagen is back on the air after going dark on TV for 14 days in the wake of the emissions-rigging scandal that broke in mid-September. But the beleaguered automaker has not signaled when -- or even if -- it will launch a broad-based consumer-facing campaign aimed at restoring trust.

In the U.S., VW did not run any national TV ads from Sept. 30 to Oct. 13, but went back on air on Oct. 14, according to ad tracker iSpot. And spending is down. The marketer shelled out an estimated $5.4 million on national TV ads from Sept. 10 to Sept. 17, just before the scandal broke, according to iSpot. That compares with $2.8 million spent from Oct. 14 to Oct. 21. Before VW unleashes an image-building campaign, experts say the automaker must first implement a fix in the U.S. for the owners of the affected diesel vehicles, which allegedly were sold with software aimed at skirting emissions testing. Worldwide, some 11 million diesel vehicles must be brought into compliance.

Michelle Krebs, a senior analyst at Autotrader, suggested that an image campaign is "a ways away." VW must "first deliver the goods," she said. "They've got to fix these cars and they've got to make these owners whole," and "that's going to take a while."

The scandal is taking a toll in the marketplace. The average list price for VW diesels sold on Autotrader fell 3% since the scandal broke. Auction prices for used VWs plummeted by 16%, according to Kelley Blue Book. Edmunds.com is forecasting that VW and VW-owned Audi will grow sales by 5.1% in October compared with the same month in 2014 -- but all of that growth will come from Audi. Total industry monthly sales are expected to jump 11.5%.

VW's U.S. creative agency of record, Deutsch L.A., declined to comment for this story. A VW U.S. spokesman declined to comment on future ad plans.

Ad agency executive Jeff Goodby -- who does not work on VW -- suggested that the automaker treat the crisis like an oil spill. VW should assess the environmental damage and sell cleaner cars in the future that makes up for the harm, or invest in other environmental projects to compensate, he said. "There are so many people that say, is the brand dead? Of course it's not dead," he said. "No way. They just need to do the right thing and do it soon."

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