How to Create Successful Marketing Strategies like Volkswagen


Marketing around the Volkswagen Polo has always been a hit with the public. From clever tag lines to tongue-in-cheek ads, the German car brand never seems to fail when it comes to promoting its products. Considering that the VW Polo is one of 2017’s best-selling cars in the UK, clearly the brand’s approach is working very well.

However, how do you know just how funny, true-to-life and controversial to be when marketing your business? VW dealership, Vindis, has looked at how Volkswagen pushes fun and controversy to sell its cars and explores whether smaller businesses can do the same.

VW Polo’s most famous ads

There are plenty of promotional material that stands out when we think of VW Polo. Volkswagen marketing is so successful because it focuses on its product’s USP and capitalises on it. A great example of this is how it advertised the supermini. With the tag line ‘one benefit of the new Polo is that you can park it anywhere’, the advertisement shows a Supermini parked on top of the billboard, which is a good example of how to use humour effectively.

Another instance when Volkswagen took key features and made a successful campaign occurred in 2003. This ad showed a dozen police officers taking cover behind a VW Polo during a gun shoot-out. The tagline here was ‘small but tough’, which was a clever way to get across the car’s resilience to the audience.

Another tactic Volkswagen uses is to exploit what’s happening in reality (i.e. in news and on social media). Take the ‘elephant campaign’, for example. Around 2014, an image of an elephant using a Volkswagen Polo as a scratching post went viral. Volkswagen leapt on this free advertising and made it work to its profitable advantage by using it as part of its campaign, suggesting that the car comes with ‘elephant impact protection as standard’. This ad had humour, a ready-made audience and a topical tone — basically, Volkswagen saw an opportunity to utilise the image in its favour.

Keeping an eye on what’s happening online is essential in marketing for businesses of all sizes. In fact, it’s likely that Volkswagen would have not seen the image had it not been for social media. The rise of digitalisation and social media apps has allowed advertisers and brands to make the most of ‘viral marketing’ as a tool to spread information.

The potential pitfalls of controversial advertising

There’s a thin line between being funny and original, and being offensive and distasteful. So, how do you attract the right attention? Many people think the trick is to be clever with your message and imagery and never set out to disgust just to get your name out there. With 30% of men and women admitting they avoided purchasing from brands with distasteful advertising campaigns, businesses need to be careful how they approach marketing campaigns.

Using Volkswagen marketing tactics in your company

Be creative and innovative when marketing your products, brand and services, but always be careful — in other words, avoid anything to do with religion, racism, sexuality and politics. If you’re a start-up or SME, it’ll work in your advantage to focus on being current, funny and thought-provoking. Stay active on social media for the best chances of exposure and free advertising with any type of budget, and above all, don’t be controversial for no reason. Just keep your eye on what’s trending online and try to catch your audience’s attention with a positive, funny or thought-provoking campaign.

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John Hannen has worked in online marketing for a number of years, covering a variety of industries.

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