Here's the story behind Volkswagen's 'Hello Light' ad campaign

A new Volkswagen ad campaign seeks to turn the page on the diesel crisis, which will turn 4 years old later this summer, with a little help from Simon & Garfunkel and their classic “The Sound of Silence.” The ad, titled “Hello Light,” also gives viewers another glimpse of the I.D. Buzz concept, due on sale in about two years, following the bulk of other I.D.-branded electric vehicles.

Seeking to promote a new era of electric driving, the ad attempts to connect two different eras through a redemption story, while looking to the past for inspiration and actually finding it.

The ad is notable for a few reasons.

First, it references the diesel crisis itself as a part of recent VW history, a crisis that is very much ongoing in the German judicial system, but one that is distant enough at this point to put into some sort of context. Second, the ad paints VW as once again looking to its past for inspiration, something it had done with the New Beetle exactly two decades prior. Third, the ad showcases Volkswagen’s efforts to start a new chapter, as it has done with developing electric cars and a new electric sub-brand, the first vehicles from which will go on sale in Europe later this year.

The ad also attempts something very rarely practiced in the U.S advertising and legal world: admitting a wrong and making a change.

The latter part, making a change from something that was demonstrably wrong and telling others about it, happens infrequently because it’s the same as admitting culpability in the legal world. Which is why companies rarely advertise making changes to a product or a range of products when a prior version of a product was harmful or regrettable: making the change itself is an admission that something was wrong with an earlier version, especially in product liability cases. But even aside from that, admitting that a company was doing something wrong in the not-so-distant past is rarely publicized, because that injects uncertainty or adds negativity to a company’s image. So when radical change in a product is publicized, it’s almost always because something was great in the past and is even greater now.

“This campaign is for all of those we disappointed, all of those who stayed with us, those who worked like crazy to keep us moving forward and for all of those who stopped caring,” said Scott Keogh, president and CEO of VW Group of America. “We have a responsibility to do better, to be greater and we intend to shoulder that responsibility.”

An updated VW logo, seen on the right, makes an appearance in the ad, perhaps an homage to a 1945 logo redesign.

What makes moments like these rare is that Volkswagen didn’t have to address the diesel crisis at all at this point, or even in the recent past. It could have just pretended it didn’t happen, as many companies do in moments of malfeasance, or if it did reference the crisis VW could have painted it as a vague compliance or recall issue that had been dealt with as a matter of course — also something other companies do pretty regularly. But Volkswagen chose to bring it up, partly because it paints a story of redemption as a company that has seen the light and is embracing electric vehicle technology.

“Volkswagen has been transforming since 2015, working to atone for the damage of the diesel matter while improving the core business, instituting new ethics and compliance programs with real teeth, and aggressively investing in electric vehicle development and production,” the automaker said. “Next the company needed to address its iconic brand. But before Volkswagen could credibly lay out a new direction, it had to take a moment to properly address what led to it.”

One other item you may or may not have noticed at the end of the ad is the VW logo. It’s new, and by “new” we mean it’s kind of old: VW has replaced the white and blue logo that was adopted in 2000, lit from the top left to give it a three-dimensional feel, with a black and white, two-dimensional logo adopted in 1945 and used until 1960. It’s not the exact 1945 version, but it’s the one it is closest to, visually, with the major difference being a thicker outer ring. A reference to emerging from the darkness?

This logo will actually make it to the badges of new Volkswagens, perhaps as early as the second half of this year. Prototypes of the 2020 Golf have already been spotted wearing the new logo, but casual VW owners may not notice the subtle changes.

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