Being Volkswagen means being able to say, “I’m sorry”

Okay, maybe Volkswagen didn’t come right out and use those words. But its newly introduced marketing campaign makes it clear that Volkswagen wants to experience redemption, move forward and rebuild its reputation after the Wolfsburg giant was battered by several successive scandals. In the United States, Volkswagen has been trying to put the 2015 revelation that it used doctored software to misstate the emissions data of its diesel-powered cars behind it once and for all. That contretemps resulted in criminal charges against key Volkswagen officials, lawsuits and heavy fines. Then in Europe, its CEO, Herbert Diess, had to apologize earlier this year after he made postings on LinkedIn reminiscent of the “work sets you free” slogan that used to adorn entrances to Nazi death camps, such as Auschwitz.

In 12-step programs, they talk frequently about the need to make amends for past behavior as essential to recovery. That’s basically what Volkswagen is doing via a new advertising and marketing campaign that debuted as a commercial during the current NBA Finals. The commercial is entitled “Hello Light,” and makes the case that Volkswagen has learned from its earlier blunders and has initiated new ethics and regulatory-compliance protocols at the corporate level. It takes the position that in such cases, companies in crisis will be measured on the basis of how they respond to problems they caused. The campaign will continue with a new phase called Drive Bigger that rolls out later this month during the Women’s World Cup. It’s intended to evoke the whimsical, irreverent advertising that helped firmly establish Volkswagen as an industry force during the 1960s, especially in the United States. Those spots, created by New York-based Johannes Leonardo, will tell viewers that Volkswagen intends to produce some 70 types of electric vehicles including an SUV for the U.S. market, and to achieve global carbon neutrality by 2050.

“This campaign is for all of those we disappointed, all of those who stayed with us, those who worked like crazy to keep us moving forward and for all of those who stopped caring,” said Scott Keogh, president and CEO, Volkswagen Group of America.  “We have a responsibility to do better, to be greater and we intend to shoulder that responsibility.”

Will Volkswagen succeed? As they say, stay tuned.

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