Tag Archives: vw

VW in Detroit?

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.

What other companies have faced PR debacles like this and survived (or not) in the past?jack

  1. TylenolI 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.
  2. Ford Motor Company – Remember the Pinto? The New Yorker just did a brilliant piece in The Engineer’s Lament.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Bridgestone Tires – Tread separation led to as many as 200 deaths and 700 injuries.
  6. 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.

  1. Invite an outside group to do some ‘All Access’ reporting on the way that VW goes to solve its problem.
  2. Crowdsource the solution – and keep their mouths shut and their ears open (my least favorite idea)
  3. 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)


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Posted by on October 14, 2015 in Uncategorized


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He’s going on about branding again….

I drive a VW Jetta TDI.
The TDIs are interesting cars in the US because they use diesel engines rather than gasoline. Diesel has long been used in cars and trucks, but it was dirtier and louder than gas engines. Recently, however, diesel has made a comeback with the advent of high milage ‘clean diesel.’ VW has been a big promoter of this trend offering TDI models of many of its cars.
We’ve been happy with the performance of our car for the past six years in many ways. It isn’t loud, like earlier diesels, it gets great milage (typically around 40mpg) and it has a lot of power for a small engine.
Then the news broke.

VW was found to have manipulated its onboard computer in a manner than outmaneuvered emissions tests. How is VW going to solve this problem? This meant that it wasn’t as clean as it was thought to be and owners are now wondering whether fixing the emissions problem will hurt the milage or performance of their cars. Also, will resale values plummet?

NPR’s All Things Considered looked into this with a number of TDI owners…

From All Things Considered, “Volkswagen owners wonder where a fix will leave them”
Previously, I’ve talked about brand image and how this scandal will affect VW’s brand identity. Judging from the NPR clip, a number of TDI owners are struggling with the same thought. None of them – or rather, us – want to drop our identity with this brand so quickly. And this pause gives VW a moment to make it’s move to save the brand.

And, at this moment, the brand is what’s at stake. Business is important, but short term planning could kill the long term prospects for the company.  Will the company listen to short term investors that have been dropping the stock:

Screen Shot 2015-10-01 at 9.01.41 AMOr, will they take a long view and rescue the brand at the expense of short term profits?

In the news article above, Steve Berman is a lawyer who filed a class action lawsuit on the day of the news and has since had 8000 inquiries about the case.

Already, the window of opportunity is closing of VW. It needs to look into itself and ask, what is it about us that has made us successful? What is our brand about?
Originally conceived as a ‘car for the people’, VW offered a sturdy, dependable car for an affordable price. VW has cultured a brand over many decades to target customers who think of themselves as slightly out of the mainstream. These are customers that want their brand to be something they can be proud of – they (we) are a tribe.

The solution is for VW to own this problem.Regardless of price, it should devote itself to implementing a fix that does several things:
1) reassure its customers (the tribe) that the company will make it right . Then…
2) control emissions
3) maintain gas milage
4) maintain power
If 2-4 can’t all be done with these cars, then it should offer to take/buy back the cars (which it could fix and then resell with whatever hit to 2-4 is necessary) and replace them with a refined model that does provide a real fix. And it should do this at cost or below. It doesn’t have to be free. Killing the company doesn’t help anyone. But it should not be making money on this either. After all, the short-term stockholders are already gone. A quarter – or two, or three – without profits is acceptable in order to keep VW customers coming back in the future with the knowledge that they can rely on their tribe’s leaders to take care of them.

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Posted by on October 1, 2015 in Uncategorized


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Oh, VW, what have you done?

What happens when the irresistible force strikes the immovable object?

Until this week, this was an entirely theoretical question. But then, Volkswagen, one of the most loved brands has done the unthinkable, willfully deceiving governments and its customers in order to attain ‘clean diesel.’ Funny that this would happen just as I have been exploring the idea and application of branding in retail.

Until last week, this was the feeling one got from VW:

(For more on Nick Drake, singer of Pink Moon)


A Page from the Enron Playbook?

A Page from the Enron Playbook?

I don’t want to even discuss this much right now other than to say, what should VW’s next move be? How can they regain customer trust and appreciation? How can they save their brand?

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Posted by on September 23, 2015 in Uncategorized


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