This is a big year for Volkswagen of America. The Herndon, Va.-based automaker has launched one of its largest campaigns to date, backing the 2012 Passat, and it is following that up with a global reveal of its latest take on the Beetle, which it teased late last year as one of Oprah Winfrey's "Favorite Things."
The company kicked things off with its Super Bowl XLV campaign for the Passat featuring a diminutive Darth Vader, and extended the program on its social media channels and the "VW Academy" microsite.
This weekend, VW launched a branded TV documentary on Discovery called "Rookies to Racers," a series of three one-hour documentaries chronicling amateur racing circuit the 2011 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Cup -- the first time the automaker has done a consumer-facing series on a major network intended to appeal to a mass audience, rather than just hardcore race enthusiasts.
And now the automaker is revealing "The 21st Century Beetle" with a world debut on three continents, starting in Shanghai, China, tied to an MTV Sound System event hosted by MTV VJs. That will be followed by MTV World Stage events in Berlin and New York City. The New York City event features the Black Eyed Peas, a performance that will be streamed live on WorldStage.MTV.com with highlights later broadcast on MTV networks worldwide.
Marketing Daily talked with Charlie Taylor, general manager of digital marketing at Volkswagen Group of America, and Raymond Wicks, partner and media director of VW's digital firm, MediaCom Interaction, about how these initiatives are being activated on digital and social platforms.
Q: What are some of the programs VW is doing in the social media realm?
CT: We activate social programs around all major vehicle introductions, typically at auto shows -- but exceptions do exist in the case of our all-new 2011 Jetta, which debuted in Times Square with the help of [singer] Katy Perry. Our latest program called on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter fans to help spread our Super Bowl campaign four days prior to its airing on television.
Q: What is VW's overall media approach this year, given there are so many new vehicles rolling into dealerships, including a new version of the Beetle?
RW: Overall, our media plan needs to effectively drive awareness of the full lineup while also getting more people to consider VW when they're in the market to buy. We will never have the budgets of the major brands, so we need to find ways to "punch above our weight" in the right media channels to get people talking about the brand while also communicating the benefits of our "Better Engineered" vehicles when they are looking to buy.
Q: Given that the company wants to sell half a million vehicles worldwide by 2015, isn't it going to have to be a very big spender in the U.S. on big TV events as it was in the Super Bowl? How is VW extending that into digital media, e.g. the VW Academy?
RW: Of course, TV is important, but the VW Academy is a perfect example of our digital media strategy to communicate the product benefits of VW models to potential consumers in a tone and manner that's unique to VW.
Q: To whom is VW marketing with its digital strategy? The people at the bottom of the marketing funnel comparing specifics or those who may not even have the brand in mind?
RW: In theory, both. However, we recognize that at the brand level, we need to get people who previously have not considered VW to put us on their list. Not only do we have so many new vehicles in new segments, but our pricing is much more competitive, so we first have to get on the shopping list in order to convert.
Q: How are you addressing awareness of VW's full vehicle lineup with media strategy? What vehicle is getting the lion's share of marketing dollars this year?
CT: Yes, awareness across the entire lineup is a key issue. However, we have a lot of exciting news to communicate this year with launches. All of them play an important role in communicating the brand's evolution.
The Touareg hybrid is a perfect example of "Better Engineering" and will be leveraged in more targeted media and in key markets. The Beetle is, of course, one of the most iconic brands, but also will have a much stronger story around performance, and men will be an important part of our strategy. The new Passat will be the biggest launch of the year and is crucial to VW's sales goals.
Q: What do you want people to think about Volkswagen? And who is the prospective buyer you want in showrooms?
CT: We want people to think that VW represents "Better Engineered" cars at affordable prices. So we need them to know what the more rational and tangible benefits are of Better (German) Engineering, ranging from a better driving experience to comprehensive standard safety equipment. We have developed key opportunity segments encompassing people who would have an affinity toward these benefits.