Conventional wisdom says that brands should turn the page following a crisis by running marketing campaigns that address customer concerns without ever mentioning the original crisis itself. We have counseled numerous clients in industries ranging from healthcare and financial services to energy and food & beverage to take that approach.
Automotive giant Volkswagen (VW) is now challenging that time-tested approach with its new ad campaign that references its “Dieselgate” emissions scandal. As Fast Company noted, VW is employing Simon & Garfunkel’s Sounds of Silence in a new campaign that “represents the carmaker’s strategy to directly address the ongoing problems stemming from a diesel emissions scandal that began in 2015 in order to move on from it.”
This is a stunning approach, one that has the potential to make marketers around the world re-think their responses to scandals and crisis communications. Give credit to VW for having the courage to test a new approach. The most recent attempt by a brand to employ this strategy failed miserably when Wells Fargo invested tens of millions of dollars to convince consumers that its fraud scandal was a past indiscretion that did not reflect its values, only to have additional instances of fraud surface in the middle of the campaign.
The reality is that social media, a shortening media attention span and scandal fatigue have all changed the landscape of how a crisis affects companies. It will be fascinating to see whether VW’s ad campaign resonates with Americans, or if its showrooms become the places that are filled with the sounds of silence.
Jeremy Story is a Vice President at GroundFloor Media, where he co-leads the firm’s Crisis Communication & Reputation Management practice. He has more than 20 years of experience helping companies ranging from start-ups to the Fortune 100 prepare for, manage, and recover from crisis issues.