Have you been following the Volkswagen vs Greenpeace ‘Darth Vadar and the Empire Strikes Back’ saga online? It all started at the end of June this year.
No? Ok watch this video first…
Cute huh? Now watch this…
Imagine the collective cold sweat as the VW marketing team watched it.
But then there’s another one…(The rebels strike back). And then Darth Vader invades London. Meanwhile Greenpeace does its good old swinging from scaffolding stunt and hangs huge VW Darkside posters in Central London. And no NGO campaign would be complete without a “Join the rebellion” campaign www.vwdarkside.com with 380,000 Jedi rebels (Greenpeace supporters) already in training, helping to increase the campaign’s momentum and visibility.
At this point does it even matter what the VW Darkside campaign is all about? Greenpeace has won anyway, whatever it wanted to win. VW has been naughty and Greenpeace cops have caught them red-handed. Will it stop me buying a VW car? I doubt it, but I am interested to see if it influences VW’s long-term marketing and lobbying efforts.
Greenpeace is accusing Volkswagen of using its “political muscle to lobby against key environmental laws”. Through ACEA the automotive lobby, VW has apparently been trying to block European proposals to reduce emissions by 30 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. From what I can see VW isn’t single-handedly blocking proposals, it’s a united effort from all ACEA’s members. However unfortunately for VW it is taking the hit thanks to its fun Star Wars advert.
VW response? Well, from what I can find, it has opted for a two press release response. I didn’t even find the first one, but the second one was a short, ‘we don’t understand why you’re picking on us, still?’ response. ‘Our cars are even better than before’. So they aren’t responding to the policy accusation but defending from a marketing stand point. Which would imply that VW isn’t ready to cope with this kind of attack. Plus its responses have absolutely no visibility compared to Greenpeace’s massive presence. And from what I can see, the car lobby ACEA is keeping its head well down.
A great marketing concept becomes a public affairs nightmare. So what the learning?
– The internet yet again shows its immense power and agility as a medium to communicate compared to traditional paid media.
– As Greenpeace already has build a huge campaign-minded following, it’s easy to flick the switch on a new issue and get everyone engaged and sharing messages for you.
– VW’s online strategy is only built for selling more cars by using offline marketing techniques. But today you can’t get away with marketing green solutions anymore; you actually have to do it. In today’s open age, doing the opposite behind closed doors doesn’t stay secret for long.
– VW doesn’t appear to have a platform for discussion to deal with these kinds of issues. It has a blog but it’s just more ‘buy this car’ marketing.
It’s too late to fight this one, so once the dust has settled, VW should sort out its lobbying efforts and clarify its political opinions where we can see them, on and offline. It needs to ‘walk the green talk’ if it wants to keep selling cars.
Greenpeace really is master of creative campaigning and in all fairness, VW lawyers, lobbyists and crisis communication managers couldn’t have seen this one coming. Sadly I imagine the VW lawyers are probably cracking down on any future imaginative marketing. That’s not the solution; but building a strong presence online that shows all sides of the company, that we can have access to, engage with and build trust in, is.
After working in the pesticide industry for several years, I know how NGOs can exaggerate the truth to make a point. So I don’t necessarily believe that VW is more evil than the other car companies, but what is clear, VW lost this fight because it didn’t have the right online presence and ambassadors to fight back fast and effectively.