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Content marketing: volkswagen’s magazine hits bump in the road

June 27, 2010

As a past (GTi, Scirocco and a Bug) and present (an EOS) Volkswagen owner, every so often a copy of the company’s loyalty publication – Das Auto – lands in my mailbox.

The magazine, as you might expect, includes a mix of news, interviews, technology insights and lifestyle features designed to enhance your ownership experience and to keep you engaged with the VW brand.

In the current issue, for example, there’s a behind-the-scenes look at the company’s top-secret research lab in California, a Q&A with its star designer Klaus Bischoff, a Texas travelogue, and mini features on the launch of the revamped GTi and an “intelligent” car of the future that runs itself.

A compelling read for car nuts and VW aficionados, it is a great example of captivation and engagement marketing.

With so much great content to choose from, the competition for which story takes the lead on the front cover is fierce. Is it the revival of the iconic GTi? Bischoff’s new prototype coupe? How about the Austin story to get you in the mood for a road trip? Maybe a sneak peek at the technology that could see cars driving themselves within the next few decades?

Nope. The story VW’s marketing and editorial team decided would be most enthralling for its readers is how its new advertising agency – Deutsch LA – plans to reposition the auto manufacturer in the eyes of the American consumer.

While the story of VW’s future brand evolution is undoubtedly engaging and relevant in the right editorial environment – the company’s internal newsletter, Marketing Week or Ad Age, for example – it is hardly the kind of story to set readers’ pulses racing with excitement.

“What, you mean VW is going for more mass-market appeal instead of targeting a niche demographic? You’re kidding me!”

“Wait, tell me again about this subtle difference between a brand being young and being youthful.”

“Please, tell me more about the slick new marketing tricks you’re going to use to sell me more stuff.”

“Oh, and when you’re done telling me the advertising story, I want to hear more about the global PR strategy!”

Snarky comments aside, despite the fact that we are living in an age where the creation of targeted content is an extremely effective way to attract and engage customers, good old-fashioned corporate politics and self-indulgence still rear their ugly heads from time to time. After all, the marketing department usually pays the print bills, and brand mangers are often more concerned about attracting the attention of the company CEO than acquiring new customers.

So, all things considered, was it really in the readers’ best interest to feature three Deutsch LA executives on the front cover in a lifeless portrait? And even if we accept that the introduction to the agency was – for whatever reason – an absolutely essential inclusion in the magazine, with just a little creative thought the story could have been presented in a far more engaging way.

What would have been wrong with a fun, retro and very cool celebration of VW’s advertising down the years narrated by the new creative director? Similarly, a behind-the-scenes look at the filming of one of the agency’s new TV commercials would have given readers the “insider” experience they crave while still allowing the marketing team to demonstrate their value to the C-suite.

Instead, we were treated to a banal Q&A that revealed such compelling insights as to how the agency landed the VW account, how they “really connected with the leadership of Volkswagen” and how they are going to help the company achieve its aggressive sales goals by appealing to a more mainstream audience.

My favorite soundbite from the interview came right at the end, from the Chief Creative Officer Eric Hirshberg: “Volkswagen owners…don’t just drive Volkswagen, they live Volkswagen…there’s a feeling of being a part of something greater – a lifestyle, a philosophy that’s greater than with any other kind of car.”

I’m sorry, Eric, but I bought mine because I liked the color.

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