Speaking plainly about car campaign

Apparently Volkswagen is aiming to cut through marketing jargon and position its latest Passat as the only sensible car in a world of ‘fluff and nonsense’.

Unfortunately, this turns out to be a marketing strategy rather than a reflection of a core value.  Indeed, it is a direct mail campaign, created by .  The agency doesn’t actually have a functioning UK website at this time, and its global site is irritatingly over-designed and includes typos (see: breaktrough behaviour change)  

Anyway, the campaign targets “130,000 prospect and current customers and takes a no-nonsense approach to communication.”  Surely, prospect is marketing speak for potential customers?

It positions the to appeal to “40 to 50 year-old males, an audience that is increasingly frustrated by today’s celebrity-obsessed and spin-fueled culture.”  The logic goes that this group will see the car as “a brand of substance in a world of fluff and nonsense.”  Isn’t that yet more marketing-speak?

The Campaign is cited as having awarded VW a for the clarity of its communications – although I can only find Volkswagen Financial Services (UK) Limited listed – so it is unclear whether this actual marketing campaign has been accredited.

I think it is a great idea for all companies to adopt effective communications as a core value and think clarity of thought is an important aspect.  But, the quote from James Hough, account manager at Proximity London, fails on this front:

Passat customers know a good thing when they see it and don’t need to be insulted with nonsense marketing. We worked with The Plain English Campaign to demonstrate that Volkswagen Passat is a car that thinks like the audience.

Being pedantic (as one should be if you care about use of language), a car is unable to think as defined here.  I also find irony in the quote from Ian Johnston, Volkswagen’s communications manager large cars, that:

The Passat is quite simply the best vehicle in its class. We have no need for bamboozling consumers with flowery ‘ modern-speak’. This latest campaign demonstrates that gimmicks or fluff are not needed for communicating with our customers.

It appears that clear communications are being used as a gimmick in this case.  I would have preferred to see a focus on communicating information about the Passat in a clear way.

Instead, the “strategy” is a distraction from providing information about the car in preference for 

mimicking the verbose language used in modern society, such as a ‘ double-choc cinnamon mochaccino with cream’ which is described in plain English as ‘ a cup of coffee’.

The press release regarding this campaign seems to originate from Proximity (although of course, I cannot see it on its website) rather than from the in-house team at VW.  This again isn’t helpful if such a message isn’t integrated across the organisation.  To me, it seems a wasted opportunity to take something as important as clear communications and ensure it is apparent in everything the company does rather than just to promote a particular car on a short-term basis.

[Thanks to Judy Gombita for link to the VW story]

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Heather Yaxley PhD

Dr. Heather Yaxley is passionate about sustainable careers, reflective practice and professional development. I am a rhizomatic educator, practitioner, consultant, academic and scholar. As a qualified academic, I teach the CIPR professional qualifications with PR Academy and have experience teaching at various Universities. I run the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA) and my own strategic consultancy. I was awarded by PhD researching Career Strategies in Public Relations by Bournemouth University in 2017. I'm a published author, with books, chapters and academic papers to my name.