Little Darth VaderVW has been a Super Bowl advertiser darling. Their “Little Darth Vader” spot from 2011 is a consistent resident on everyone’s Top 10 Super Bowl commercial list of all time. “Don’t Worry – Be Happy” delivered VW’s attitudinal points of difference to the global Super Bowl audience in 2013.

Self-Inflicted Wound

In September 2015, they were exposed. VW was found to be using software that could detect when regulators were running emissions tests and adjust the results so its vehicles would pass. That led to fines and the firing of many on its executive team. This event was dubbed Dieselgate. The VW consumer mantra went from “Don’t worry – Be Happy” to “I’m pi$$ed, and you lied to me.”

Broken Trust

Crisis Management

VW immediately stopped all advertising. In December 2015, they ran a series of print ads apologizing to consumers. In the four years since the scandal, the brand is still in recovery but stable and improving.

Brand Impression Chart

New Volkswagen = New Era

Challenges like Dieselgate present opportunities to re-position your company and brand. “New Volkswagen” will be seen and experienced in the design of the vehicles, in customer contacts and in the brand presentation as a whole.

New Logo

The new logo, new brand design and a “no filter” digital first approach was developed by 19 internal design and marketing teams plus 17 external agencies. “No filter” means that the brand will be presented in realistic situations with which the customer can identify.

A Silver Lining to this Dark Cloud

I’m a believer in the underdog, especially those who have been knocked down. Will this “no filter – digital first” approach work to re-establish consumer trust and start a new VW era? I don’t know, but I’ll keep an eye out for what we can learn. What concerns me is the involvement of 19 internal design and marketing teams and 17 external agencies. That sounds like a lot of cooks in the kitchen. That level of complication is one of the reasons I wrote the book “You Can’t Lead What You Don’t Understand.”

Takeaways for Business Owners: While you may never experience a global scandal like VW did, remember these key points:

  • Ethical decision making by leadership is critically important
  • Authentic apologies to your customers and employees are the first step in re-building trust and brand
  • Too many cooks in your marketing kitchen complicate your marketing soup – that usually is not good