Turning negative brand exposure into a positive through advertising.
Updated: Jan 16
What happens when your brand receives unwanted attention, how do you turn a negative into a positive? Well, here’s a great example of how Volkswagen did just that.
Where's my badge gone?
It wasn’t uncommon in the late 80s to see Volkswagens driving around Swindon and Cirencester without a badge in the grill on the front of the vehicle. As a teenager, at the time I couldn't help but think this was cool.
As a fan of Hip Hop, I was inspired by the Beastie Boys and their first album called Licence to ill. The album cover was just awesome. As a budding artist, I studied the vinyl cover of a large plane crashing into the side of a mountain. The plane represented a large cigarette being stubbed out. The lyrics and 808 kick boomed from my hi-fi system.
One of the tracks on the album was 'You gotta fight for you right to party!'. This was a great, obnoxious anti-establishment tune and it resonated with me. In the music video and in promotional material surrounding the release of the band’s debut album, the Beastie Boys’ Mike D wore a chain with a VW emblem around his neck.
Sadly this was the cause for badgeless cars in rural Wiltshire and across the UK. Car parks and dealer lots were prime targets for over-enthusiastic fans wanting to emulate their heroes. Although I thought it cool my strong moral compass prevented me from taking a screwdriver to grill.
Beastie Boys – Licence to Ill, front cover
Beastie Boys – Licence to Ill, back cover
Good for business
Rick Rubin and Russell Simmonds fledgling label 'Def Jam' had been running for a few years and had promoted artist like Run DMC, LL Cool J and Public Enemy. The label was key in pioneering the new musical phenomena called Rap or Hip Hop. The unwanted attention of fans ripping badges from cars was just the sort of hype needed to push the Beasties songs up the record charts.
The trios first album was hugely successful and bought great fame and notoriety to Def Jam. It cemented the labels reputation and helped reinforce the Beastie Boys as the young party rebels of the East Coast Hip Hop scene.
How did Volkswagen react? Initially, a spokesperson replied 'we find the whole thing distasteful'. It's flattering to have our iconic brand copied, but customers are having their vehicles damaged. It was estimated at the time that in the first two weeks of June in 1987 circa 250 cars a day were having their badges replaced. Wow.
In response, VW stepped in and offered Beastie Boys fans free badges. All you had to do was write into VW and you would get a free badge. Sadly and quite surprisingly Mercedes, BMW, and Audi badges were also stolen during this time causing damage to vehicles. However, their marketing department didn't produce an advert in response to the crisis like Volkswagen.
The advert, cleverly written and art directed doesn't need much explanation. Quite simply, it leveraged VW's heritage and used a tone of voice that resonated with the youth of the day... 'me'. The advert was placed in Smash Hits – its dual strategy served to curb the theft of badges appeasing customers and generated brand advocacy with a younger audience that was still yet to drive. Genius.
We understand the power of brand
Having been around for a while we can look to the past for inspiration and draw on learnings, lessons, and experience. This wealth of knowledge is fused with contemporary thinking to create memorable creativity that resonates, inspires and connects customers to products and services leveraging sales revenues or brand profiles.
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