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March 31, 2021

"Voltswagen" Stunt Backfired on Volkswagen

This is why Germans aren’t known for their sense of humor. A day after Volkswagen of America said it was renaming its operations to “Voltswagen of America” in their EV push, they’ve now fessed up that it’s all a marketing stunt.

Bloomberg has this quote:
“Volkswagen of America will not be changing its name to Voltswagen. The renaming was designed to be an announcement in the spirit of April Fool’s Day,” Volkswagen said in a statement after removing the release from its U.S. media site. “We will provide additional updates on this matter soon.”
VW had said it mistakenly published a draft of the fake release on Monday, and took it down after some reporters wrote stories about it (including us). Sources within the German automaker confirmed the move to be true, despite being so close to April Fool’s Day. Volkswagen then issued the “official” announcement on Tuesday, two days before April Fool’s Day.

The world’s second-largest automaker expects to double electric vehicle deliveries and boost profits for its core brand this year after stepping up its switch to fully electric vehicles.

Yet, some company officials have expressed frustration that its significant U.S. EV efforts have not drawn as much attention as Tesla or General Motors, perhaps prompting Volkswagen to come up with the April Fool’s release.

However, Tom Morton, chief strategy officer for the U.S. at advertising firm R/GA in New York says the entire stunt backfired. Quoting Bloomberg:
“This is the most pressing challenge of the auto industry, ‘Can you go electric?’ It’s an odd thing to be joking about,” Morton said. “Choosing to joke about it undermines their commitment.”

It’s not unheard of for companies to use humor to gain publicity for a radical change, Morton said. IHOP famously renamed itself IHOB, the International House of Burgers, to draw attention to its lunch menu.

“That’s mainly being done by fast-food brands, where the stakes are lower and they need a bit of hoopla,” Morton said. “This is about a fundamental change of direction for a world-shaping industry, and also one where there’s a lot of baggage.”
It wouldn’t be the first time VW’s marketing has been questioned. The automaker caused an uproar last year with a video clip that showed a Black man being controlled by a giant white hand.

The clip produced by Omnicom Group Inc.’s Berlin-based subsidiary Voltage sparked widespread criticism and tensions within the company. The German automaker’s powerful labor representatives called it a “low point” and demanded an overhaul of social-media marketing.

Volkswagen in 2015 admitted to using illegal software to rig diesel engine tests in the United States known as “Dieselgate.” It sparked Germany’s biggest corporate crisis, and cost the carmaker more than USD 38 billion in fines, refits, and legal costs.

In 2017, VW pleaded guilty to fraud, obstruction of justice and making false statements as part of a USD 4.3 billion settlement reached with the U.S. Justice Department over the automaker’s diesel emissions scandal.

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