Volkswagen India: of innovation, focus and relevance

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All that had to be said about Volkswagen India’s recent wrap around ad in the Times of India (‘shiver of excitement’) and the social media gaffe (not once but twice) has been said. Good reads here, here, here and here. Yes, Volkswagen should have apologised for the offending tweet and moved on. That would have made the brand come across as genuine, humble and human. Everyone makes mistakes, but to repeat the same mistake? I thought the ‘our Twitter handle has been compromised’ tweet wasn’t thought through either. Naturally it was viewed with lot of skepticism and didn’t really help the dust to settle down. And being incommunicado for a long period of time (especially after aggressive promotion of the ad on Twitter by the ad agency) after the gaffe leads to some more skepticism about the brand’s intent. As I said, one of the learning is there is no delete button on the internet. The other learning: stay true to your brand in Social Media and train all stake holders in the nuances of Social Media.

Just to pull back a little bit, Volkswagen has been attempting to create jaw-dropping media events that hinge on an ‘innovation’ for a while with varying degrees of success. The logical question: what defines ‘success’? While any company may have internal objectives, targets and parameters of success of a marketing activity, to the world outside it all boils down to: ‘what are they selling‘? and ‘do I like it‘? What follows after answering these questions as a consequence is the action taken: walking into a showroom, calling for a test drive, posting a comment on social networking site, sharing it with friends and so on.

The central proposition, creative idea and the execution play a role in any of the consequences and actions: is the creative good enough to be shared, recommended? Is it easy to find on the net? Is the action required clear and simple to do? Is the idea unique and appealing? Central to all these is the power of focus and more importantly relevance. Some thoughts & observations on the entire effort:

– by including both the Vento and Polo in one ‘sell message’ (packed with new features) there was perhaps some dilution of effort. Are the prospective buyers of these two brands similar in terms of expectations from a car, psychographics?

– the TV ad suggests that the features speak for themselves and hence – a ‘silent’ ad. What has that got to do with the vibrator in TOI? Isn’t it all about one single idea expressed seamlessly across different media? And using the advantages of each medium and the platforms therein to your advantage?

– it appears to me that the urge to innovate, create buzz and match it in scale to the previous efforts (talking ad) took precedence over being clear about the fundamental questions. Almost like an execution being thought of first and then retro fitted into a strategy. Hence the execution took centre stage, than the idea.

– the issue of e-waste generated by the device wasn’t thought through as pointed out by commenters.

– what was the call to action? The message about test drives and toll-free numbers were lost in the excitement about the device. Given that its an expensive effort (deal with TOI, sourcing millions of devices) shouldn’t there some kind of action-oriented effort? A greater push on action to be taken by the reader? Maybe scanning the car visuals or a QR Code through a phone and linking it  to a show room visit?

All of this has led to ambiguity about the central message, the relevance of the device to that message, the target audience and the relevance of message to them etc. Bottom line, innovation without relevance is like a snazzy car without wheels. It might the attention but what does one do with it?

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