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VW marketing hoax: An April Fools’ or foolish ploy?

VW’s U.S. chief takes blame for ‘Voltswagen’ hoax

After a few days of hesitation, Volkswagen has finally confirmed that its name change, announced in the United States to reflect its turn in the electric, was an April Fool’s Day. But what is hiding what remains above all a communication operation?

Volkswagen (“the people’s car”) changes its name to Volkswagen (“the car of the volts”) to reflect its decisive shift towards electricity. Credible for some, unthinkable for others, this surprising announcement, in both substance and form, ultimately turned out to be a hoax, a Volkswagen spokesman in the United States confirming that it was indeed an ‘April Fools.

Two days of doubt

The end of doubt of about two days: Monday, March 29 in Europe, we learned that the press release from the American subsidiary of Volkswagen had just “leaked”. Dated April 29, 2021, it presented the name change to Volkswagen in a very serious way. It was withdrawn from the brand’s official website for the media in the United States, allowing the rumor to spread, before reappearing the next day, this time dated March 30, 2021.

Behind the scenes, it is incomprehension. Communication in Europe does not seem to be really aware of the name change operation which, if it remains confined to the United States, was nonetheless important for a group present at the global level. Especially in the midst of the launch campaign of the ID.4, the new generation electric SUV offered by Volkswagen. If the press release was once again unpublished from the American side, this Wednesday, March 31, only to still bear the mark of this joke which hid its game well.

Several clues, however, suggested that it was indeed a “joke”. This “failed” communication seemed inconsistent with the issue of a name change for a brand like Volkswagen, although the very serious press release still left room for doubt and large groups are not immune to it. such a bug.

A few Twitter accounts had changed their names (including which has more than 600,000 subscribers), confirming the rumor. Not to mention the fact of making a fish a few days before the date of April 1, and not waiting for that date to deny it.

Posted Tuesday, March 30, the post below refers to the year of birth of Volkswagen of America, its subsidiary created in 1955 and which is celebrating its 66th birthday this year: “an unusual age to change our name but we have always been young people in our hearts, ”the message quipped.

It is also difficult to believe in this name change, which should concern all models, while the ID.4 is the only 100% electric car in the American catalog at present (Arteon, Atlas, Atlas Cross Sport, Golf, Golf GTI, ID .4, Jetta, Jetta GLI, Passat and Tiguan). We could have rather thought of a sub-brand dedicated to the electric, like Hyundai with Ioniq or Polestar at Volvo.

Talking about electrics, the key to Volkswagen’s survival

As always, April Fools’ Day for big companies is of course aimed at communicating, or “making the buzz” as we say more nowadays.

That the communication around the ID.4 (the new electric SUV from Volkswagen) is centered around this name, it remains a good idea in terms of advertising message, underlines Frédéric Fréry, professor of strategy at ESCP. This remains consistent with Volkswagen’s communication history, which is based in part on derision and the second degree. “

It is difficult to judge the effectiveness of this strategy with the general public but from a strict media point of view, this real-false name change has given rise to numerous times in the media, in the United States but also in Europe.

In Germany, the economic daily Der Spiegel wondered thus, between irony and anxiety, , noting, in particular, the programmed death of the heat engine, “pride of German engineers”.

Even if he guessed that the operation was rather hiding a marketing experience, the article found the idea quite good, knowing that the unit of electrical voltage, the Volt, refers to the scientist, pioneer of the electric battery, Alessandro Volta (1745-1827), like an echo of a certain Tesla who borrowed his name from Nikola Tesla (1856-1943). Other name changes were also suggested, such as BBW, for “Bayerische Batterie Werke”, with a B in place of the M from Motoren, engines in German, from BMW.

But behind this unbridled communication, Frédéric Fréry recalls that Volkswagen is currently going through a rather delicate period in its history:

We must not forget that it is the most indebted company in the world, , or more than the public debt of a state like South Africa! This is the consequence in particular of the fines linked to the Dieselgate scandal and “

For him, this record debt is partly linked to Volkswagen’s “too big to fail” corporate status in Germany: in the event of a glitch, the German state will save the company “too big to fail”. But it is the structure of the results of the Volkswagen group that also seems worrying for Frédéric Fréry:

Despite a net profit of 8.8 billion euros in 2020, the structure of these results remains fragile. The Volkswagen brand now represents 31% of sales volumes but only 4% of operating profit. Conversely, Porsche is 3% of volumes but 38% of operating profit. The other main contributors to the group’s profit last year were Audi and financial services. Today, Volkswagen is in a way a colossus with feet of clay, who lives thanks to Porsche, Audi and credits! “”

Ironically, it was Volkswagen’s Dieselgate in the United States, which finally precipitated the announced death of the heat engine, and this astonishing communication around a name change.

“Volkswagen is now forced to redeem a virginity, especially in the United States where the scandal of rigged engines broke in 2015. It is thanks, or because of them, according to this point of view, that the The auto industry is in the process of converting to electric with the tightening of emission regulations. Volkswagen in a way has a responsibility towards the whole sector: they have broken the toy of the industry thermal and profitable automobile. “

“Make the Tesla-style buzz”, at its peril

Beyond the turn in the electric, Volkswagen would also seek to imitate Tesla in very modern communication, able to allure the current and future converts to the electric.

This is what we can remember from this real-false announcement of a name change, a priori initiative of the Volkswagen teams in the United States, without any real (more) traditional communication relay.

Volkswagen Group boss Herbert Diess recently joined forces with Tesla boss Elon Musk. However, the latter has a habit of directing the communication of the company, from his Twitter account in particular, where he publishes in a very “free” way.

If it is not the personal Twitter account of Herbert Diess which announced the change of name, Volkswagen could however regret its “marketing experience”.

An article explains in fact that the Volkswagen stock market rose by 5% on Tuesday, in this context of a name change, exposing the company to a sanction from the SEC, the American stock market policeman, since the information that could have played a role on this increase in value turns out to be false.

What to establish a link with, in which the boss of Tesla spoke of a withdrawal from the stock exchange of the company and that the funds were secured for this operation, which was proved to be false, resulting in a fine of $ 20 million.

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