Volkswagen of America bet on German engineering, rather than contrition, as the underlying message for its broadcast advertising during the height of its diesel emissions scandal.
Ad experts say it was the best option in a bad situation, but not an antidote.
In the ads, VW consistently touted the technology, performance and safety of its vehicles, with no apology or acknowledgment of the diesel crisis, said Biju Thomas, senior director of product management and data for Media Monitors, a White Plains, N.Y., firm that tracks the frequency and content of broadcast ads.
"They kept hammering at the same message," Thomas said. "They're trying to blunt the negative messages coming out of the scandal."
Independent data show the strategy has delivered mixed results at best. It's too soon to analyze sales numbers, and perceptions of the VW brand haven't returned to pre-crisis levels. Getting there, analysts say, may require an extra helping of German engineering.
In analyzing VW's advertising from November 2015 through July 2016 -- the period between the EPA's notice of violation and VW's agreement to a $15 billion settlement with regulators and customers -- Media Monitors found that VW's focus was to convey brand strength even in a time of crisis.
The data showed:
- VW raised its spending on broadcast advertising during the peak of the scandal.
- VW's advertising activity grew each month after the scandal broke in September 2015, peaking at about 300,000 advertising airplays in May 2016 vs. 100,000 just before the scandal erupted.
- VW broadcast ads consistently focused on technology, performance and safety.
- VW's strategy appears to protect the brand's reputation by not initially discounting prices.
- VW did not apologize for or acknowledge the diesel issue in its broadcast spots.