To win back trust, VW goes big on longevity

Latest spot from Deutsch LA puts emphasis on the promise of a six-year warranty.

Volkswagen has made several moves to win back consumers’ trust since 2015’s emissions scandal. Two years ago, it apologized to Americans in full-page newspaper ads, and at the 2017 Detroit Auto Show, it changed its tagline from "Das Auto" to "Think New," signifying a fresh start.

On Wednesday, Volkswagen announced its latest effort at the New York Auto Show: a six-year, 72,000-mile, bumper-to-bumper, transferable warranty on the 2018 Atlas and Tiguan SUVs. It’s the best limited warranty in the business, Volkswagen claims, and it’ll take center stage in a new film from creative AOR Deutsch LA that’s slated to hit the air next month.

For a brand struggling with reliability issues, "the warranty was totally appropriate and needed," said Volkswagen Marketing VP Vinay Shahani.

The 30-second spot, "Coast to Coast," features the new Atlas being driven across the United States. (The Tiguan launch campaign will debut in Q3.) But unlike Atlas’s recent ad, "Luv Bug," which used a frisky couple and their growing family to demonstrate the roominess of the seven-seater, the new spot never shows the driver. Instead, the car drives from New York City to St. Louis to the desert to the California coast, demonstrating that Volkswagen is willing and able to go the distance.

"Volkswagen has taken big steps to design and develop a product specifically for American tastes, so we felt it would be very appropriate to show it through the lens of America and really celebrate the beautiful country that we live in," Shahani said.

The spot is one of eight executions targeting families. Volkswagen will highlight its new warranty as well as the Atlas’s easily accessible third row to position "this vehicle as a very viable, strong contender in the midsize SUV segment in the United States," said Shahani.

Volkswagen will also veer from its past messaging to communicate that the Atlas is "fun to be in" versus fun to drive. The reason, Shahani said, is that car-sharing services have given more power to the passenger. So, in addition to the warranty, Volkswagen will market the Atlas as one with seamless smartphone integration with Apple Car Play and Android Auto, including preloaded apps like Spotify, Audible and at Bat.

Shahani said the campaign will be a multichannel effort, consisting of print, TV and digital. Print will represent a "small portion" of the media buy with the bulk of the investment allotted to digital.

Although Volkswagen topped Toyota last year in production numbers, becoming the world’s largest automaker, Shahani argued that Volkswagen is a "small brand" that spends "a fraction of our competitors in terms of media." That’s why it dropped WPP’s MediaCom and aligned with Omnicom’s PHD in January. "The pressure is on for us to prove that we’re reaching the right audience," he said, adding that PHD has "the ability to deliver progressive media strategies." Volkswagen spent $425 million on advertising in 2016, according to Kantar Media.

Volkswagen sold 27,635 cars in March, up 2.7 percent from the year before. The seven-passenger Atlas represents the largest vehicle Volkswagen has ever sold in the US.  

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