Volkswagen, whose most notable social media success to date came from "The Force" viral Super Bowl ad two years ago, is taking a new approach to cultivating fans with a campaign soliciting their stories on Facebook.
The German automaker — whose U.S. sales are up 37.6% this year through August — this week is launching Why VW, a platform on which fans can tell their stories how their VWs fit into their lifestyle.
The brand is launching the effort with the 30-second TV spot above, which Kevin Mayer, VP of marketing for Volkswagen of America, calls a "palate cleanser" that will run during the Presidential debates among other election-themed media opportunities. "There's a lot of negativity in the press," he says. "This is an ad that shows the cycle of life. It's a reminder that's what we all should strive for."
The ad is designed to drive consumers to Why VW, which will seamlessly exist on a dedicated microsite and on VW's Facebook Page, where they can tell their stories. So far, such stories include the tale of a triathlete who decides to help a physically challenged woman compete in a race and Alex Flynn, a man who is driving his VW cross-country to raise awareness about Parkinson's Disease. VW worked with ad agency Deutsch and crowdsourcing firm Poptent on the effort.
"What's cool about the platform is that people can come in, share their own stories and we'll publish them into this space," Mayer says.
Of course, VW's not the only brand to realize that Facebook and its website can be a vehicle for spotlighting consumers' stories. Outdoor clothing brand Patagonia, for instance, has a Twitter-powered platform called "I vote the environment" that provides a forum for fans to chime in on the issue. Similarly, Pepsi's website is now a hub for discussion under the heading "Live for Now," a framework that seems to encompass all kinds of positive experiences happening in real time. However, in the auto segment, most companies still use their website to tout their latest models.
Despite VW's commitment to the new platform, though, it's unclear whether the brand will be back at next year's Super Bowl. In 2011, the brand's "The Force" ad featuring a pint-sized Darth Vader became one of the most-viewed ads on YouTube of all time. (It currently has 54 million views.) Comparatively, VW's 2012 Super Bowl ad, "The Dog Strikes Back," was a more modest success with 15 million views. Mayer, however, says that Super Bowl 2013 is "still something we're taking a look at." However, "the strong push in Q4 is the idea of reconnecting people to our brand."