Burst Volkswagen’s Bubble
August 2010: While the rest of the world is concerned with protecting the environment and there is greater awareness about corporate social responsibility, Volkswagen and DDB Mudra advertising, an agency that has in the past come up with good, creative and socially relevant campaigns, have inexplicably showcased an extremely callous and socially irresponsible ad campaign.
One advertisement for the newly launched Volkswagen Polo has the actor blowing his horn, trying to antagonise an one-horned rhino. Another has the car drive over an ostrich egg to demonstrate the car’s ground clearance.
While the ad makers may have felt that they were showcasing the car’s ability to withstand rough roads and tough weather conditions, all they are really doing is exhorting people to disturb animals, and endangered ones at that! The ad unambiguously says, “Drive your Volkswagen Polo to a wildlife sanctuary. Search for the meanest looking rhino… blast the horn as loud as you can.” Advertisements like this subliminally and explicitly undermine the conservation effort of so many. They also seek to undermine the efforts of those who are trying to sensitise the general public on how they should behave in sanctuaries and national parks.
Noise disturbs animals. Wild species such as the one-horned rhino, should never be provoked. Apart from the disturbance caused, the animal might even kill a stupid ‘yahoo’ who takes such messages seriously. Very little has been gained and a lot lost in terms of brand equity by these crass advertisements that seem to equate teasing animals or endangering birds’ eggs with fun outdoors.
Wildlife road kills are a serious issue and to encourage people to take their cars out to these places displays an astonishing ignorance on the part of the advertising team. Highways and roads through wildlife parks lead to fragmentation of habitats and laws are being put in place to rein in irresponsible drivers. Clearly, no real research went into this ad campaign that has used nature so thoughtlessly to sell a product.
Volkswagen might have gained more from a campaign whose creativity was directed at spreading awareness about the endangered status of the rhino, instead they have chosen to poke fun at it and of our natural heritage. There was no need for the advertising agency or the client who approved this atrocious attempt to get attention, to enter into conflict with wildlife conservation.
Sanctuary Asia works with millions of young persons. Volkswagen can be sure that this constituency gives them a ‘thumbs down’ for their attempt at misfired humour, if indeed they were trying to be funny. Our readers are urged to write to both Volkswagen and DDB Mudra to ask them to consult their own employees, who we are confident would never approve of the campaign.
As champions of the free press, Sanctuary Asia is not asking for the advertisement to be banned. Instead, we intend to draw the attention of a large number of people, including car owners and members of automobile associations, to ask whether they approve or disapprove of the advertisement and the values it projects.
Sanctuary readers are exhorted to write to Volkswagen. You could consider making these points:
Ask Volkswagen to remove their account from DDB Mudra for damaging the brand equity of a company that has always been proud of its ‘small car’ (Beetle) and small environmental impact track record.
Ask a new agency to come up with a better campaign that is respectful of wildlife conservation.
Ask Volkswagen to consider launching a Corporate Social Responsibility Scheme to support a credible non-governmental organisation that is working to protect the one-horned rhino.
Volkswagen has a Sustainability, CSR and Environmental Protection Department and they invite comments. Send an email to
and tell them how their ad conflicts with the values they claim to promote.
Also send an email to their CEO, Martin Winterkorn
Volkswagen Group Sales India Private Limited 3, North Avenue, Level 4, Maker Maxity, Bandra Kurla Complex, Bandra (East), Mumbai – 400 051. India.
Readers should also write to Jairam Ramesh, Minister for Environment and Forests and the Chief Ministers of West Bengal (
) and Assam (fax no. 0361 22562069), plus the Prime Minister of Nepal (
) to draw their attention to this insensitive ad. Addresses are available on www.sanctuaryasia.com