Volkswagen ‘Alien’ – adam&eveDDB / MediaCom
PR mishaps or brand #fails are ten-a-penny in the age of social, where the relationship between brand and consumer is - somewhat paradoxically – both more personal and more public than ever before. Whereas not so long ago an irked customer might write an angry, but crucially private, letter of complaint, now these interactions are played out in a global, digital amphitheatre called Twitter. Such a setting offers many opportunities, but it certainly takes no prisoners. Take New Balance, which took the bizarre decision to use social media to express excitement at Trump’s presidential election victory, culminating in its young, affluent customer-base promptly uploading videos of themselves burning their trainers in disgust.
The two greatest PR disasters of the last year or so, however, cannot be attributed to any social media slip-up, although the speed at which information reaches people at scale will inevitably have made these stories more damaging and longer-lasting than they would have been just ten years ago. The most recent of these, of course, was at Samsung, which will be fanning the flames of its burning reputation long after the last of their phones explodes. The second, Volkswagen, most likely faces an even longer road to recovery following the emissions scandal that erupted in September 2015. This week’s campaign spotlight takes a look at the latest advertising campaign from the car manufacturer as it seeks to rebuild its reputation, piece by piece.
Released last week, ‘Alien’ by adam&eveDDB is the second instalment of VW’s advertising campaign specifically tailored to independent cinemas. Playing out like a blockbuster thriller, the 60-second spot features a terrified couple dashing to their car to hide from a hideous dinosaur-like monster. As they scramble for cover in the boot of their car, they are betrayed by the VW’s hands-free boot opening technology, which is repeatedly set off by the alien’s tail, wagging ominously as its owner hunts. As the alien wanders off and the couple survive, we see the campaign’s tagline, ‘Not made for Hollywood/But happy to support independent cinemas.’
Looking at the advert in isolation for a moment, it’s a strong one on a number of levels. It’s been made for cinemas and its content has been crafted with the medium in mind; something so simple yet so frequently forgotten. Then there’s the way the features of the car are the real stars of the drama. In ‘Alien’ the boot’s hands-free technology almost gets the couple killed, while in the first ad in the series, ‘Mafia’, the car’s ability to convert text messages to audio makes the passenger aware he is about to be bumped off by the driver. Celebrating the features of the cars by showing scenarios where they have catastrophic consequences for the owner is irony at its best, and the layer of humour forms a protective shield against any pretentiousness that may have come from a solely cinematic approach.
In the greater scheme of things, the series seems to be a step in the right direction for the brand as well. Supporting local cinemas is a small act of good, the likes of which VW should be seen to be doing. More elaborate acts of well-meaning or benevolence run the risk of agitating consumer cynicism and therefore being counterproductive, but something simple such as making a point of advertising in the local cinema is something of which most consumers will surely approve.
The release came in the same week as a broader campaign for VW focusing on the heritage and nostalgia of the brand. Also from adam&eveDDB, the ad follows Barry, who’s maintained his father’s golden Beetle, with family photos playing a key role in showing the role the brand has played in Barry’s family’s lives. VW are quite right to be using nostalgia to remind consumers that the brand means much more that the emissions scandal, and it is that personal connection that VW will be hoping to heal. On the basis of their latest campaigns, it looks like VW are on the right track.