Volkswagen India has been adopting innovative ways to reach out to its customers. While it has worked well now and then, many a time, these measures have proven to be controversial. While the German brand has managed to capture the imagination of many, in instances like lowering the Vento from a sky scraper during the car’s launch a couple of summers ago and when an imaginative talking Ad was featured in newspapers, the brand has also rubbed many Indians the wrong way on more than one occasion. The Polo hatchback Ads that appeared soon after the car’s launch in India were a few instances when Volkswagen jumped the gun. Here’s one of them, that showed a scant regard for India’s wildlife, and left a particularly bad after taste, more so in a country which is struggling to inculcate a sense of respect and responsibility amongst its citizens, towards its dwindling wildlife resources.
Now, Volkswagen India seems to have taken controversy to an all new level, what with the brand’s official Twitter handlemaking a downright sexist comment. When the tweet goes viral, as it ostensibly would have, given the very nature of Twitter, Volkswagen commits what is downright sacrilege in Social Media circles, by promptly deleting the sexist remark. In the remark, Volkswagen India states that women “do not understand real driving experience” and goes on to add “pun intended”, to seal the deal. The brand makes no attempt to apologize for its actions on Twitter and ever since, has chosen to remain mum on a social media outlet which has over 10 million users in India alone. Incidentally, Volkswagen has been running a special Woman’s series of the Polo cup in India, so much for women not understanding “driving experience”.
A Social Media blog, in this case, LightHouseInsights, has managed to grab screenshots of Volkswagen India’s remark. The whole controversy revolves around a vibrating(Note, not vibrator) electronic device that Volkswagen India imaginatively attached to major Indian daily newspapers like TheTimesOfIndia. This ad campaign, through the vibrating device, was designed to give the newspaper reader a shiver or two, thereby marketing the brand new features of the facelifted Polo and the Vento car models that Volkswagen has lined up for this festive season.
While the Ad campaign was one of its kind, the vibrating device(which many chose to call a vibrator) soon became the butt of many a joke on social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook. So much so, that VolkswagenIndia actually began trending on Twitter yesterday, albeit with the campaign having taken a negative turn with most folks on Twitter actually treating the whole exercise like one big joke. This clearly seems to have had the person behind Volkswagen India’s official twitter handle all riled up, leading to this unwanted outburst, which could have easily been avoided.
Many leading brands in India and for that matter across the world, especially in the automobile sector outsource their social media functions to PR agencies, whose digital divisions in turn handle the brands’ presence on social media avenues like Twitter and Facebook. This sexist comment could have originated from one of the PR agencies’ professionals rather than Volkswagen India itself but then again, the brand will find itself vicariously liable for damages that could clearly have been prevented with a genuine, heartfelt apology.
Whatever be the case, Volkswagen India has chosen to remain silent and at the time of publishing this story, has not apologized for what clearly is a sexist remark that could alienate Indian women from the brand’s unseemly behaviour on Twitter. We might have not heard the last word on this, just as yet. Watch this space.