Brand loyalty can carry a lot of weight when it comes to returning customers. I am hopelessly devoted to several major brands that have won my trust and heart with their fantastic design, products, and welcoming marketing tactics. Apple is an example. This loyalty goes tot eh extreme that I have never owned or even really used a PC. I as the customer almost feel as though I am part of a fantastic family of apple users, one who gathers around the computer every January to see Steve Jobs unveil another exciting gadget that we will all obsess over using together. When implemented well, over many platforms brand loyalty can nearly sustain an entire company. But what does brand loyalty include, and what happens when a company fails its devoted loyalists?
Since the age of four I have nearly had a heart attack at the mere site of a VW Beetle. I collected box-fulls of VW Memorabilia… a beetle telephone, a ring, die-cast models and even slippers. VW had a loyal and dedicated customer before I could even drive. Continuing my obsession through my teenage years I was delighted when the New Beetle was introduced in 1998 and made darn sure I was actually driving one by January of 1999. At the age of 17 I went to pick my new Bug up with a video camera in hand, and continued to even document my love affair with my car through a photo album I kept. My Beetle was more than a car it was a lifestyle.
Perhaps you may have forgotten but when the New Beetle was first introduced it raised a few eyebrows. I called my best friend eagerly begging her to let me come pick her up in my new car boasting that my new wheels turned heads. Knowing my ability to exaggerate she brushed it off as me being overly excited about my new car. With her in my passenger seat, we rounded a corner where a man stopped dead in his tracks, dropped his groceries and gawked wide-eyed at my German Designed masterpiece. My friend took me more seriously from there on out. Volkswagen had created something more than a car it reinvented a statement.
In the years after that I have sported a vase full of vibrant Gerbera daisies and a bobble headed dashboard dog named Tito. Beetle owners honk and wave as we passed, and everyone has a story about a bug. When pulling up to a School bus of children I almost always smile to see kids punching each other screaming “punch buggy!”. This product created massive brand loyalty simply in its existence, not to mention the clean and clever ads you could find on TV boasting of its curvy design.
So what has happened? Recently Ad Age ran a story on Volkswagen’s dissatisfaction of results correlating between sales and the marketing campaign of Crispin Porter Bogusky. In 2005 Arnold World Wide lost the Volkswagen account to Crispin after popularizing the “Drivers Wanted” Campaign since 1995. This contract shift was triggered with Volkswagens slumping sales and the hope that Crispin could work the same magic with VW as it had with its campaign for the MINI. Now Crispin is under scrutiny as sales for the automaker continue to slide in the US. Where are the Loyal Customers going? The first thing that pops into people’s heads is ” revive the brand.. bring back drivers wanted!” And this is wear I say “revive the brand bring back the quality product!”
This is a sincere case of ”you can’t polish a turd”. It’s obvious to me that Volkswagen’s brand is starting to spin tires, because you couldn’t sell me another. As we just established, I am (was) one of the most enthusiastic Beetle enthusiasts you could find, but not any more. While I touched on some of the better stories that highlight my relationship with my beetle, I am now going to briefly point out the more painful experiences. Within the first 3 years of ownership my car had numerous issues. Examples include but are not limited to: Windows falling into the doors (x2), the lock falling out of the door making the it vulnerable to a thief sticking their finger in the lock well and disarming the alarm, anything glued into the inside falling out of its place, and the drivers side back fender fading considerably more than the paint on the rest of the car. I have also had the turn-signals stop working and water pump break (x2) more recently. And if you want the headlight changed, its going to cost you about 70 dollars. Oh, and don’t think you can get around that by taking it somewhere other than the dealer, because most places will be so confused to the design of the car they will ask you to take it somewhere else or charge you close to the same. There of course is so much more but I am not trying to bash VW today. I am simply proving a point.
The power of a brand goes beyond that of clever marketing and fantastic eye- catching design. A brand involves the overall experience it creates for the user. In the case of Volkswagen most of that is already done for the company, with the school buses loaded with children, and honking drivers. Worrying about the slogan that Crispin Porter Bugusky is using is completely irrelevant when someone needs to concentrate on a better product.
Volkswagen, I am so sorry but the time is nearing where we will both have to move on to new things. It’s been a wild ride and we have had some good times… but its just not going to work out. I gave it my best shot but there comes a time where you have to have some self-preservation and just cut the line. This doesn’t mean we can’t still be friends, and maybe one day the planets will align and we can pick back up where we left off. But that time is not now.
[techtags: Brand Loyalty, building a brand, corporate branding, Volkswagen, Beetle, Crispin Porter Bugusky, arnold worldwide, Beetle ad campaign, identity]