Given the recent revelations about VW’s emissions testing subterfuge, the ad industry watched with anticipation to see what sort of persona the company would take on in its post-crisis advertising. The answer? A familiar one.
And that’s a good thing for VW. It brought back a popular campaign supporting its regular “Sign Then Drive” event. The campaign features salespeople who are ‘kidnapped” by people who are test-driving a VW, and are so taken with it, the test drives continue into all manner of entertaining situations for far longer than the anticipated time.
In my favorite spot, a family has taken a VW Christmas shopping, and is unloading gifts outside a family gathering when we see, at last, that there is a VW salesman sitting in the back. His earnest, mild-mannered suggestion to return to the dealership is greeted with a genuine look of hurt feelings as the wife asks, ‘don’t you want to meet my family?”
In other executions, we join a couple lying on the hood/roof of the vehicle, looking up at the stars, making wishes. Then we hear a mild, totally un-sarcastic voice through the sunroof from an unseen salesman inside chiming in with “I wish we could head back to the dealership now.”
I think the campaign is a particularly good choice for VW for right now, for several reasons.
- The message is not a very intense “product/feature” sell – a good decision when almost any specific claim would likely prompt a snarky, knee-jerk response about the claim’s truthfulness.
- Secondly, the real “selling idea” here isn’t delivered in the company’s voice at all, but rather through the fondness various people instantly feel and show toward the vehicles on their “test drives.” This virtual third party endorsement works much better for VW at the moment.
- Finally, there is a consistent likability displayed by the VW salespeople in each spot. In that “Gifts” spot, for example – despite the salesman’s eagerness to end the test drive, he doesn’t want to hurt the woman’s feelings. So of course he sighs, taps his knees, claps his hands and hops out to go meet that family.
In the big picture, VW’s “emissions-gate” is going to cost the company millions of dollars or more, plenty of credibility and many previously-loyal customers. But going silent advertising-wise was never an option. And the manner in which they’ve chosen to return to the arena makes sense.
It won’t please those who are out for corporate blood, and the company’s misdeed was serious enough one can hardly blame those who feel that way. (I can see the comments now: “the salesman wouldn’t want to go back to the dealership either – the Feds are waiting for him.”)
But as a normally cynical observer of the industry, I have to say I think these new spots in VW’s “Test Drive” campaign work quite well in the midst of the current crosswinds. And they are certainly a breath of fresh air compared to a pet peeve of mine – the many spots now airing in the “cars as holiday presents” mode. Sorry, that’s just a blatant attempt to foist yourselves on a holiday marketplace in which you don’t belong. You’re just more clutter, and of the most unwelcome kind. Go have a real idea, will you?