Volkswagen owns up to the emissions scandal in its new ‘Hello Light’ ad!

The new Volkswagen ad is truly path-breaking. It actually starts by referring to the infamous emissions scandal! This is the first time Volkswagen has owned up to its wrong-doing, but without really apologizing!

There are 2 ways to consider this narrative.

The good:

  • The honesty
  • A clear path to redemption in public eyes, from a scandal to an electric future.

The bad:

  • Reminds people of the scandal even if they had forgotten it (it was in 2015!)
  • No clear explanation of how sorry they are and merely asks the public to trust them that now they’d do the right thing (the public expected them to do that even before the scandal)

(It is also intriguing that the YouTube video doesn’t have a single Like or Dislike, despite having so many views!

The background is that, even in politics these days, leaders are getting away and are winning, with half-truths and non-truths, around the world.

Then, the cardinal rule in PR and marketing, called ‘framing’. (Here’s more on that!)

In this case, the need was to frame the narrative in a way that doesn’t allude directly to a negative. To talk of remedial measures undertaken without explicitly addressing the bad and focusing more on what has been done, positively.

There are popular sayings to this effect even in many Indian languages. Like, ‘Aa Bail Mujhe Maar’ in Hindi (meaning, ‘Come bull, please hit me’, implying ‘asking for trouble, proactively), or the Tamil saying, ‘Enga Appan Kudhir Kulla Illa’ (meaning, ‘My father is not in the haystack’, implying that by talking about the haystack, you offer the clue that he may be hiding there!).

There are ways to address the negative that are more effective. Like, using credible individuals to offer that endorsement.

It could be credible celebrities (remember Amitabh Bachchan’s endorsement of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk after the ‘worms’ crisis? Or Aamir Khan’s endorsement after the Coca Cola pesticide controversy?), or the CEO her/himself (a lot of examples for this) or even normal, real people, particularly for a social media campaign. All these people can talk about what has been done for people to start trusting Volkswagen again.

But this Volkswagen ad has none of that. It merely talks down to the audience (with a fantastic song to boot!) that it has learned from the past and is looking to the future. And this, while showcasing a model that is expected in late 2020!

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