After its ‘Voltswagen’ stunt, VW should look to Mercedes for how to do sustainability right

In this instalment of The Redmond Review, Craig Redmond says that VW once again finds itself in “perception peril” following its ill-conceived April Fool’s prank—

I remember seeing a survey that ranked advertising just above used car sales in order of professional trustworthiness.


But after a century of claiming to make clothes cleaner, food faster and cars better, it’s little wonder consumers question our ethical compass.

Few categories, though, have pushed the marketing morality meter further than the automotive segment. Over the past decade, an estimated 323 million vehicles have been recalled, with little or no communications contrition from their makers.

In the 90’s, Volvo got caught structurally reinforcing its pristine sports wagon in a demo spot that showed a monster truck crushing all the other beaters in its wake.

And after promoting the virtues of “clean diesel” for dozens of years, Volkswagen finally admitted to rigging its own emissions evaluation software in more than 10 million cars worldwide, a scandal that became known as Dieselgate, and immediately vaulted VW into the Advertising Hall of Shame.

So, in 2017, the wagon of the people begged redemption by unveiling its plan to go entirely electric by 2026, and teased that tectonic shift with the resurrection of its darling microbus, now known as the ID. Buzz.

And last week, Volkswagen announced it was changing its name to Voltswagen in honour of its forthcoming EV armada. It was reported by media outlets around the world, and for a fleeting moment, even the most jaded amongst us held our breath in anticipation of this Bill Bernbach-inspired rebirth of the iconic brand’s soul.

But a heartbeat later, we realized that it was just a leaked April Fools prank. No doubt dreamed up by some superior-feeling marketing executives, more invested in patting themselves on their haughty backs than in protecting the integrity of a beloved 83-year-old brand, which once again finds itself in perception peril.

One hopes that VW can recalibrate in a good way. It can perhaps take inspiration from its older sibling, Mercedes-Benz, which has been quietly converting its manufacturing facilities to be run entirely on renewable energy sources by next year.

Because actions not words, separate truth from tales. And in this case, clearly separate leaders from fools.

Craig Redmond is a creative leader with Palmer Stamnes and Co, an independent family of marketing communication companies.