After a yr off from the sort of advertising hijinks (the one pandemic silver lining?), this yr Volkswagen kicked issues off sooner than anticipated.
Let’s simply stroll by means of the occasions of this week, as a result of it actually is value taking a look at in its entirety. On Monday, the German carmaker posted a press launch that Volkswagen Group of America was “unveiling the official change of its U.S. model identify from Volkswagen of America to Voltswagen of America” to lean into its aggressive electrical automobile manufacturing plans. However that launch was incomplete, and gave the impression to be dated April 29, main many to invest that it was a mistake, and sure some untimely flackulation of a foolish April Fools’ Day joke.
However then on Tuesday, the firm dug in and issued a full, correctly dated, official launch on its social channels, seeming to substantiate that sure, after 66 years, VW in America will now stand for Voltswagen. At that time, it gave the impression to be a real factor. Or was it?
We all know, 66 is an uncommon age to alter your identify, however we’ve at all times been younger at coronary heart. Introducing Voltswagen. Just like Volkswagen, however with a renewed give attention to electrical driving. Beginning with our all-new, all-electric SUV the ID.4 – out there at present. #Voltswagen #ID4 pic.twitter.com/pKQKlZDCQ7
— Volkswagen (@VW) March 30, 2021
Usually when main as much as a big product announcement or massive company rebrand, corporations pitch media to cowl it, making executives out there to wax poetic on why this is the biggest factor ever. However VW didn’t do any of that. Whereas its international CMO posted the VW of America press launch to LinkedIn together with the message, “We absolutely help it. Electrical isn’t simply the future, it’s the proper now. Please share to everybody!” in a video interview with AdAge, VW’s American VP of promoting, Kimberley Gardiner—whom you would possibly suppose could be briefed on one thing like a reputation change of the model she’s accountable for selling in her nation—didn’t precisely give it a ringing endorsement. Except exasperated eye-rolling counts.
Nonetheless, proper there in USA Today, an nameless firm supply explicitly stated that VW wasn’t hacked, the announcement was not a joke, or a advertising ploy, and the plan was for the change to be everlasting. Then after a lot hypothesis, another (though maybe the same?) unnamed company source told CNBC that sure, this was, the truth is, all a part of an elaborate April Fools’ Day joke to lift consciousness about the firm’s all-electric ID.4 mannequin. It simply was launched sooner than anticipated by mistake. Perhaps the ID.4 needs to be renamed the FFS.4.
“Elaborate” April Fools’ pranks are one thing that manufacturers have been doing for years, presumably to spice up morale amongst mid-level advertising managers and the clinically bored. With very few exceptions, most of those are horrible, complicated, and, extra just lately, genuinely out of step with an period drenched in very critical misinformation points. So in fact, VW then got here out on Wednesday with an aw-shucks self-congratulatory, all-press-is-good-press message.
What started as an April Fool’s effort received the entire world buzzing. Seems persons are as captivated with our heritage as they’re about our electrical future. So whether or not it’s Voltswagen or Volkswagen, individuals speaking about electrical driving and our ID.4 can solely be an excellent factor. pic.twitter.com/Rzx8mJgxkT
— Volkswagen (@VW) March 31, 2021
As a joke, the solely factor humorous about this is, frankly, the sheer degree of befuddled confusion and company hubris surrounding it.
The Edgelord Financial system
Right here’s the factor: Altering an iconic model identify to replicate a product innovation does smack of thirsty trend-chasing of gargantuan proportions. However in 2021’s enterprise local weather, it’s additionally completely believable. We reside in an period when hype and traits aren’t nearly PR, however in the Elon Musk Industrial Complicated, they’re additionally about corporations at all times and regularly making daring strikes and bolder statements.
All hail the company edgelord! Musk, who runs VW competitor Tesla, filed paperwork with the Securities and Trade Fee simply over two weeks in the past notifying it and buyers that he was not Tesla CEO however its Technoking. (Now that is committing to the joke.) As Bloomberg’s Christoph Rauwald pointed out, VW CEO Herbert Diess has seemingly taken a web page out of the Tesla Technoking’s script for using extra of a hands-on position in getting VW’s message out on social media and staging splashy occasions massive on ambition. Maybe not coincidentally, the firm’s inventory is up 70% this yr.
As a legacy carmaker, Volkswagen appears round amid its very real achievements in EV tech and product growth solely to have tweet-hyped upstarts steal the highlight. In the fourth quarter of 2020, VW bought 191,000 EVs in contrast with Tesla’s 183,000, and but their market caps aren’t even shut—$141 billion for VW versus $641 billion for Tesla. Hell, even hill-rolling alleged scam Nikola noticed its valuation rise to $30 billion last year.
It’s on this topsy-turvy world the place an absurd identify change begins to appear good. Lean into the insanity! What’s so necessary about this identify anyway? Folks both suppose Hitler or emissions scandal, proper? If automobile design, reliability, vary, and every little thing else that ought to matter about electrical autos doesn’t matter, possibly this truly all is sensible.
Okay, okay, let’s all breeeeeaaaath. We additionally reside in a time when, more and more, persons are searching for manufacturers that replicate admirable values: belief, dependability, sustainability, possibly even duty. Volkswagen has only recently emerged from underneath the cloud of that emissions scandal, slowly cobbling again the model goodwill painstakingly constructed over many years, from “Think Small” to the Darth Vader kid.
A model’s response to an April Fools’ gag mistakenly dropped early needs to be to cleverly admit it, have enjoyable with getting caught, and transfer on. Maybe that’s simply too old style. As an alternative, VW handled shoppers, the media, and by the appears of it, its personal head of U.S. advertising, like a bunch of rubes.
The absurdity of dwelling in a world through which enterprise realities might believably power an iconic model to make such a frivolous identify change is unhealthy sufficient. Telling a joke that nobody will get, then telling us all it’s not a joke, however then it is, is simply plain silly.