Halt in the Name of the Stupid Police!

At a previous agency, I was given the honorary title, Chief of the Stupid Police. It was my job to find and stop the stupid. Bad ideas, wasting client’s money, sub-standard work; if it was stupid, it was my job to put a halt to it. That’s why I’m still scratching my head over Volkswagen’s failed attempt at humor.

As marketers, we understand that a company’s brand is everything. It’s the collective impression that IS the company. It’s everything that customers see, hear and experience in relation to a company and/or its products or services. So why would Volkswagen make a joke out of its own name?

Good question.

A few days before April 1, Volkswagen announced that it would be changing the name of its US operations to Voltswagen to emphasize their electric vehicle efforts. Get it… Volts, as in voltage… electricity… electric Volkswagens. They went as far as saying that their EVs would even carry Voltswagen badging.

Then the truth comes out. Volkswagen claims (insert snicker here) that the whole Voltswagen thing was intended to be an April Fool’s Day prank… but it got leaked to the public early. Early…yeah… right.

What makes the story even more cringe-worthy is that Volkswagen’s lead marketing agency, Johannes Leonardop, was in on the gag. Really? You have a client that has integrity and honesty issues (remember Volkswagen’s diesel emissions debacle?) and encourage them to propagate a falsehood about a pending name change. That was really irresponsible.

I may not be the Creative Director at a mega-worldwide agency but I do know this. Brands take years to build. Damaged brands can take that long to rebuild. Some brands never fully recover. Didn’t anyone at Volkswagen recognize this and say, “Hey, this is a really bad idea?” Where was their Chief of the Stupid Police?

Even if Volkswagen had “sprung the gag” on April 1, I don’t think many people would have found it funny. I would suggest VW leave the comedy to the comedians and focus on building cars.

Thoughts? Criticisms? Already placed your order for a Voltswagen? Let me know.


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