This American Life just solved Volkswagen’s Branding PR debacle free of charge.
I’ve been thinking about VW’s diesel fraud a lot lately. Why? Because I was one of the VW faithful – one of the tribe. I drive a VW Jetta TDI and have felt betrayed by a friend. And every day that I drive my car I wonder if the person behind me at the stoplight is looking at the “TDI” emblem and shaking their head thinking ‘you poor sap.’
My interest has also been sparked by attending some Branding Seminars at our local business center, The Enterprise Center of Johnson County, and following classes on Marketing and Branding on Coursera, specifically ‘Brand Management: Aligning Business, Brand and Behavior, by the London School of Business’ Nader Tavassoli.
For Tavassoli’s class we had an assignment where we were to look at a brand we were interested (typically that of the company you work for, but in my case, VW) and ask people what they think of the brand in one word (apparently a mantra of Brand managers is: Distill, distill, distill). Fortunately for me, I don’t even have to go looking for answers. Every time I open the paper there’s an article like this one on the correction that VW is going to be using in new cars going forward. Every time I listen to the news on the radio, I hear reports like the All Things Considered report I mentioned in my last post.
So, what words are people using today to describe Volkswagen? Fraud. Liar. Arrogant. Mistrust.
- Tylenol – I talked about this one before. The message here being that if you get in front of the problem and make your product even better than before, you can come out on top.
- Ford Motor Company – Remember the Pinto? The New Yorker just did a brilliant piece in The Engineer’s Lament.
- Nixon – well. There might not be a lot to learn here, but the country did recover once Tricky Dick resigned. Sometimes heads have to roll.
- Jack in the Box – This one got used in the This American Life piece – and, I’m not sure if I can really get behind their decision to take the offensive. Let’s just say that there are various solutions to any given problem.
- Bridgestone Tires – Tread separation led to as many as 200 deaths and 700 injuries.
- GM, Ford, and Chrysler CEOs– We learn that sometimes it’s a bad idea to fly your private corporate jet to Washington DC to ask for $25 Billion in bailout funds. In this case, the shaming was personal and was ‘rectified’ by driving hybrids to all future government meetings.
#6 doesn’t really fit the mold of brand problems, but it was a PR problem for these CEOs. Why? Irony. That’s why. And this is the problem that VW is facing: VW’s brand was built on Trust. When Nixon lost the country’s trust, he had to resign from office. There was no saving his brand. People like to see perpetrators pay for the problems they cause.
#1 – Tylenol. That had irony too. A medicine that kills. There was a good chance that it would be the end of that brand, but instead, they doubled down and said, ‘Not only are we going to make our product safer. We’re going to make all medicines safe.’ What could VW learn from this? Perhaps incorporating software to make the driver aware of their car’s emmissions just as many cars now show instantaneous MPG readings. Perhaps by inventing a product that can improve all diesel engines. Perhaps by bringing in a third party regulator to ensure that all VW standards are upheld across the board.
Today, while raking leaves from the front yard, I listened to the new This American Life podcast by Ira Glass that brought up the problem of VW’s brand. And, as fast as that, they solved it by going to ad execs and asking for ways to stop the bleeding of trust. 1-2-3.
- Invite an outside group to do some ‘All Access’ reporting on the way that VW goes to solve its problem.
- Crowdsource the solution – and keep their mouths shut and their ears open (my least favorite idea)
- Move their headquarters to Detroit, Michigan, own the problem and make a solid investment in a city that needs it right here in America (my favorite idea – it’s a big one, and costs a hell of a lot – but at least the property itself will be cheap)