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Does VW need to do more as it returns to advertising?

Volkswagen is finally dipping a toe in advertising waters following the emissions scandal, sooner than some people thought but, arguably, too late.

Here’s an open letter from VW North America boss Michael Horn, apologising for the diesel problem but rather overlooking the fact that other cars have likely been involved. The remedy he suggests is modest too – a sort of VW credit card – and has clearly had lawyers and finance people crawling all over it (‘don’t offer too much or admit any more liability’).

As such it’s unlikely to engender much support among current and prospective VW owners – or keep the legal hounds off its tail.

“Thank you and best regards” is a bit feeble too although it’s not so easy to think of an alternative. VW in the UK has also begun to advertise again, with product ads. Both campaigns are running in newspapers.

Without wishing to revive arguments about newspaper reach and impact, why hasn’t VW and its respective agencies – Deutsch LA and adam&eveDDB – used outdoor? Maybe they suggested it and VW rejected the notion.

Robin Wight, of BMW ad fame, suggested right after the crisis broke that VW should run posters with just the logo and ‘Sorry.’

That would have been a much better idea, still might be. VW could have reached just about everybody if they’d spent enough. Posters can also encapsulate the key ingredient of emotion. They also have the great benefit, in this context, that you’re not expected to say too much.

It’s a start though and maybe there’s better to come. Of all the major car brands VW, arguably, owes the most to advertising (below). People will buy a BMW despite the advertising, as they have for much of the past decade or so. Not so with VW.

Its current dire predicament is VW’s biggest advertising challenge. It needs to rise to it.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.
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