Was Volkswagen pulling our leg? Yes it was. (Update)
The marketing stunt of the German VW Group is turning against her. On Tuesday, Volkswagen of America leaked a marketing message: the company will rename itself into Voltswagen of America. It was fake news.
Afterward, the message has been denied, qualified as an April Fool’s joke, and reconfirmed as a deliberate strategy. After Dieselgate, VW wants to reposition itself as sustainable in the US by going electric. That’s the message after this remarkable move, but now the company gets a lot of backfires.
At VW, everything had been done to make the message credible. There was an official press release, and the Twitter account was adapted. The French news agency AFP got an official confirmation of the feat, saying that the original message was released inadvertently and that it was, in fact, due for the 29th of April.
But in the afternoon, some VW sources started to deny the message, pointing at Germany’s enthusiasm for April Fool’s jokes. Now we know it was a joke, but the idea behind it was genuine.
“We might be changing out our K for a T, but what we aren’t changing is this brand’s commitment to making best-in-class vehicles for drivers and people everywhere,” said Scott Keogh, president and CEO of Volkswagen of America.
“The idea of a ‘people’s car’ is the very fabric of our being. From the beginning of our shift to an electric future, we have said that we will build EVs for the millions, not just millionaires. This name change signifies a nod to our past as the peoples’ car and our firm belief that our future is in being the peoples’ electric car.”
Electric is the way to go
Volkswagen of America finally wants to leave Dieselgate behind. To do so, it has completely reversed course and clearly chosen for electrification. VW wants to beat Tesla in its own (electric) game as soon as possible, no matter what this may cost.
Volkswagen is not the only manufacturer to go for full electric as soon as possible. Lately, also America’s number one, GM, has committed itself to electrification.
Using the ads during the ‘Super Bowl’, the most expensive TV publicity one can reserve in the US, GM presented its new logo where the M of GM is formed like an electricity connection.
Not the first time
In fact, it’s not the first time that Volkswagen plays with renaming names or brands to create a marketing buzz. When the Golf V had to be launched at the end of 2003, Volkswagen rebaptized the city with its headquarters for a few weeks: Wolfsburg had become Golfsburg.
The difference is that this time the communication department of VW has caused some furious reactions. French news agency AFP, which specifically asked for a confirmation, is not amused.
“We understand that a spokesman of a company sometimes remains quiet about a piece of information, but we never thought he could be overtly lying,” AFP reacted. “We are convinced that companies shouldn’t use serious news sources for marketing or publicity reasons.”
A lot of other journalists have qualified VW’s action as being of very bad taste. Especially so when the company has been cheating on everyone with its famous Dieselgate, a scandal that already cost more than € 30 billion.
Some even qualified the action as a promotion of fake news. “Maybe you’re not aware of it, but we have a problem of disinformation in this country,” tweeted Nathan Bomey, a journalist at USA Today. ‘From today, you’re part of it.”
Not a cloud in the sky
At Volkswagen, they still don’t see that they have been playing a dangerous game. Yesterday, they explained that “the objective was to generate attention for an essential subject in the group, electrification.”
“The great amount of positive reactions on social media proves that we have reached our objective, ” is the laconic comment. Apparently, the people at the head of VW communications don’t learn from their mistakes.
Renaming Wolfsburg into Golfsburg at the time may still have been funny or well found, but last year VW had to withdraw a video clip promoting the new Golf for being discriminatory or even racist. In February of this year, an advertisement on the ultra-right-wing news site Breitbart also caused some controversy.
The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is not very pleased either. According to the AP press agency, it is considering an investigation against VW for manipulation of the stock price. VW’s stock value went up 5% after the fake announcement.