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September 22, 2015
Will a 'Defeat Device' Dampen VW's Marketing?
 
If you've heard the news, it is a little short of astounding. The VW group has been under investigation and is facing one of the biggest fines in automobile history for intentionally creating a device that "defeats" the environmental lab test. According to multiple reports, the device engaged when it felt the conditions in a lab and created much less pollution than it would in an uncontrolled setting.

So your lab-test VW (and some Audis too) would be clean diesel — but in reality, not so much.

Wow.

We are not going to go into building the whole "defeat device." What we do want to mention is the fact that even though VW deliberately made this device to fool the EPA tests, the brand created marketing and advertising pushing the fact that VW is pioneering clean diesel. 

The question is, was the marketing campaign made with the knowledge that VW had to cheat the tests to hold true to their promises, or was the marketing team totally unaware of what was going on? That issue is what concerns us. If it is the former, then the marketing team should be called into question for the "truth in advertising" that we are all accountable for. If it is the latter, then the marketing team can play its "siloed ignorance" card and claim that they were only doing what they were told to do. As of the writing of this post, news has not yet shown how many people were knowingly involved in this.

This situation brings us to a brand's promise. When we teach brand promise to students, we define it as the commitment made to the customer that the brand will satisfy their wants and needs. VW's marketing promised a vehicle that ran on "clean diesel"; that the TDI technology could replace how traditional cars are built. 

Did VW live up to their brand promise? How should consumers feel that VW apparently cheated to feign their promise?

If the marketing team had no idea, and they bet the farm on this campaign, how do they feel?

Though the cars are still completely safe, there seems to be a dirty aura around them. And that's unfortunate.

Obviously, there are more questions than answers at this point. The ultimate penalty may be upwards of $18 billion. Hopefully more information about the communications and marketing will be released. In that case, we will revisit this unusual and peculiar event.

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Dwayne W. Waite Jr. is partner and principal at JDW: The Charlotte Agency, a marketing and advertising shop in Charlotte, NC. He enjoys consumer behavior, economics, and football.
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