Neil Dawson: why Volkswagen is a Modern Classic

If only everything in life was as reliable as the Volkswagen tone of voice.

Times have changed, cars have changed, technology has changed. But the VW tone of voice endures.

How come?

One thing that helped was the huge body of work created by Bill Bernbach in NY back in the day. It gave everyone who came after him a North Star to follow, both agency and client.

He established that understated delivery – funny at times, emotional at others, but always thoughtful and treating the viewer with respect.

It all added up to a tone of voice that talked to consumers rather than shouted, and, in doing so, persuaded rather than bludgeoned.

The VW tone of voice is based on timeless values. As Bernbach said: “It is fashionable to talk about the changing man. A communicator must be concerned with the unchanging man, with his obsessive drive to survive, to be admired, to succeed, to love, to take care of his own.”

Yet another Bernbach quote that is as relevant (if not more so) today as it was in his day.

It also gave client and agency a benchmark to aim for. The weight and expectation of history were on you when you worked on VW. “Over to you, don’t fuck it up,” were words that were oft used.

Tone of voice has lost its voice in today’s advertising. Multiple agencies all wanting to make their mark on an account will invariably result in dilution, unless strictly policed. The fad for writing in a different way for each medium will also challenge a single tone of voice.

I’m Neil. I’m Neil when I speak, call, text or email. Why should brand personalities be any different? VW have managed to defend their point of view better and for longer than almost any brand I can think of.

And despite a clear benefit to the brand, in terms of loyalty and being able to charge more, few other marques have come close. Audi you have to say are one of the best of the rest; Honda more recently. But think of all the others that swim around in a sea of sameness – Ford, Toyota, Nissan, Peugeot, Citroen, Renault. And don’t get me started on BMW…

unnamed-2-e1416905536872-300x286Neil Dawson (left), founder of London creative agency Dawson Pickering with Clive Pickering, is the former ECD of BETC in London, where he helped win Bacardi, Cow & Gate and Diet Coke. Before that he was worldwide creative director on Philips at DDB.

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