Volkswagen's got the blues

By Biprorshee Das , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Advertising | April 01, 2011
Launching the new Passat with the BlueMotion Technologies in India, Volkswagen has kicked off its Think Blue campaign, and in true Volkswagen style comes another print innovation wherein two national dailies were taken over with every headline in blue.

Men in blue are certainly the nation's favourite these days. So when the English daily, The Times of India in its Thursday (March 31) edition, printed two words - Think Blue - on its power jacket (false cover) many thought it was to honour India's win over Pakistan in the ongoing ICC Cricket World Cup. The newspaper even had the headlines changed from black to blue.

Later did they realise, it was an innovation by the German carmaker Volkswagen. Having launched the all-new Passat with BlueMotion Technologies in India, the company kickstarted its Think Blue campaign showcasing its 'technology being responsible towards the environment' concept.

Think Blue is a global initiative by Volkswagen, now launched in India.

Pages of the popular dailies, The Times of India and The Hindu, were taken over across the country, with all their headlines in blue, complete with a four-page ad of the sedan introducing the technology.

Such an exercise is not new either to Volkswagen or to people familiar with the brand's innovations. Earlier, campaigns have seen holes being punched in newspapers in the shape of a car, audio devices being added and tyre impressions being made on dummy front pages.

BlueMotion Technologies is aimed at innovations for improved fuel-efficiency and reduced emissions. The new Passat comes with features such as Auto Start-Stop System that switches off the engine when the car is stalled in traffic and starts automatically on pressing the accelerator, Brake Energy Recuperation that recharges the battery every time the car brakes; and a TDI engine that ensures fuel economy. A gear shift indicator recommends the right gear for maximum fuel efficiency.

"Think Blue is much more than a campaign. It is a brand philosophy. It is saying that the brand Volkswagen stands for responsibility when it comes to the environment," says Lutz Kothe, head, marketing and public relations, Volkswagen Group Sales.

Divya Gururaj, managing director, Mediacom (Volkwagen's media buying partner) says this is the beginning of more media innovations.

On the current print innovation, Gururaj says, "It was a huge challenge in terms of logistics, media partners and creating a convincing campaign. Print innovations capture eyeballs. The medium itself is about news - unlike television."

Explaining the creative thought behind the campaign, Bobby Pawar, chief creative officer, Mudra Group says that it is inspired by the world.

"The entire world is seen through an engineer's eyes, an engineer's manifestation of being responsible to the environment. It is a blueprint of the world," says Pawar.

"We have to do new things. We have to create a different visual language every time - that also has to be very human, and of course, innovative," Pawar adds.

The print innovation could not have come at a better time, after India defeated arch-rivals Pakistan in the semi-finals of the ICC Cricket World Cup. So could there have been a risk of readers reading into the innovation as a victory celebration?

Kothe thinks otherwise as he says that the feedback received so far has been rather encouraging.

"We are Germans. We plan everything. We knew India would win," he quips.

Quite a soothsayer then - with the planning exercise of the campaign having taken around a couple of months!

Gururaj adds, "It is perfect timing, coinciding with the win. Though I think we probably would have gone ahead with it even if India had not won."

The Think Blue campaign is a 360-degree one led by television and supported by outdoor, print and digital.

Feeling Blue

The innovation has met with criticism from experts who find it a bit gimmicky. However, while earlier Volkswagen exercises, too, have been panned, what cannot be ignored is the fact that people talked at length about them.

Satbir Singh, managing partner, Euro RSCG India, finds the innovation "annoying". However, he adds that the objective is met, with people taking notice and talking about it.

"I was more interested in the news of the day and the blue headlines were annoying, making them a bit unreadable. A lot can be talked about on the innovative nature of the exercise and the massive amount of money that has probably been spent on it. For many brands, it is a prohibitive amount. However, it has been noticed and has been talked about, which to an extent, serves the purpose," says Singh.

Arun Raman, senior vice-president, planning, Lowe Worldwide is more critical and is not impressed.

"This is not innovation. Every other day, dailies carry full-page ads and dummy front pages. It is not disruptive enough. Advertising must be intrusive, but not at the cost of the medium. This is a high segment car. Volkswagen is an iconic brand. Iconic brands do not need gimmicks such as these," he says.

The coinciding of the innovation with the Indian victory, too, does not go down well with him as he says that his first impression was that the daily was celebrating the win.

"It is contextually wrong that way," says Raman.

This particular point was also raised by a media planner who spoke to afaqs! on condition of anonymity and said that she, too, initially thought that it was related to the outcome of the India-Pakistan match.

The planner adds that she found the creative to be lacking as well.

"The front page just said Think Blue. I did, but did not get the context. The sketches were purple and the back page showed a grey car. Being a media professional, I can see that a lot of effort has gone into this, but as a layperson who does not know about the technology, the dummy front page does not make a brand connect at all," she says.

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