The history of Volkswagen (VW) features notable images and events, both positive and negative. Although its image and brand personality have remained closely linked to the peace-loving hippie movement, VW also suffered a massive hit to its reputation when the company’s attempts to falsify emissions data came to light. These conflicting impressions had serious negative implications for the brand, prompting a new advertising campaign that seeks to skip over the recent past, to remind customers of the happy images from more distant decades.

In particular, and notably, the new advertising campaign never shows any modern VWs. Instead, it highlights old models of the brand’s microbus and Beetle. It also features actors dressed as hippies, engaging in altruistic behaviors such as helping push one another’s cars out of the mud.

By highlighting this positive, warm image of VW and the people who purchase its cars, the company finds a way to promote the service it has newly started offering, namely, a six-year warranty that exceeds any other bumper-to-bumper warranties offered by other car companies. The tagline reminds viewers that “VW drivers have always put others first; now we are returning the favor.”

In emphasizing these ethical notions of collaboration and community, VW also explicitly is avoiding talking about the ways that it failed to live up to those standards. An emissions scandal revealed that the company had found some sneaky workarounds that enabled it to indicate that its vehicles were releasing less pollution into the air than they actually were. Many buyers, especially those who embraced the hippie ethic, felt betrayed by the failure and shifted their loyalties.

But the brand’s sales have already started to rebound, such that now its primary goal is to regain its status and positive image. The advertising encourages that effort, but VW also notes that its real promise to customers comes from the new warranty. By providing a longer, better guarantee than other automobile manufacturers, VW is seeking to reestablish itself as trustworthy and supportive.

It is a relevant strategy, though not one that every company could copy. Volkswagen benefits from its long and well-established image, as well as its close connection to an appealing and nostalgic time in history. The hippies thus appear to be helping, yet again.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What goals does Volkswagen seek to accomplish with this advertising campaign?
  2. Can you think of any other firms that could leverage a similar nostalgic strategy to regain a positive brand image after a scandal?

Source: E.J. Schultz, “VW’s Latest Move: A Hippie-Dippy Ad Without a New Car in Sight,” Advertising Age, October 13, 2017