In a major faux pas on Twitter, Volkswagen India actually ‘deleted’ an offensive tweet in the hope of saving a dying campaign. But things done on the internet always leave a footprint somewhere.

Yesterday morning, the best in class German engineered car – the Volkswagen shocked newspaper readers with a motorised vibrator attached on the back page that sets off automatically on opening the paper. The vibrations thus set off were meant to excite readers so much so that they walk in to the Volkswagen showroom for a test drive of the new Polo and Vento. But going by the majority of the reactions on Twitter, this most innovative and vibrant campaign has gone kaput!

The full page ad spread enticed readers with the copy ‘Feel the shiver of excitement?’ First ‘the shiver of excitement’ and then the vibrator on the back, both messages coupled to form a classic case of brand miscommunication. While a few loved the idea notwithstanding the underlying sexual innuendo surrounding it, there were many tweets about the shiver not working for them.

In its defence, Volkswagen tweeted “Women would be dumb to call it a vibrator. Or maybe they do not understand real driving experience. #PunIntended #Volkswagen #Creative”.

Although the said tweet has been deleted along with all retweets of it, this one screenshot of the tweet taken by Nandita remains.

Volkswagen calls women dumb with no understanding of real driving experience! Besides, the hashtag ‘#PunIntended’ added the final nail on to its coffin. This glaringly sexist tweet received a massive backlash within no time and was quickly deleted. I don’t know who was handling the account – a misogynistic employee or an intern at the agency, but for me as a consumer and a woman, it is the brand talking to me. So, the negative message has been etched forever in my mind. Some brand recall that!

Interestingly, there have been no tweets by the brand’s Twitter handle (@VolkswagenIndia) for yesterday. For a brand that has nearly 2-5 tweets on any given day, it is quite surprising to see this, especially on the day when they have spent crores to buy space on the leading daily newspapers of the nation and were expecting the ‘shivering’ excitement to reflect in the online world.

Could they have saved the day?

Brands as big as Volkswagen create benchmarks on social media. It is their campaigns that inspire, motivate and become role models for the rest of us. But in the process of being larger than life, Volkswagen forgot to be ‘human’. All it needed was to apologise for the said tweet and move on. But instead, the brand chose to delete the tweet on the sly and not communicate anything at all. Zero communication is even worse on social media.

Messages do get interpreted in many unintended ways. But it is always a good practice to let go of that arrogancy and issue an apology for the message, whether intended or unintended. When Starbucks tweeted about being short of their own cups and requested an apology for using national cups, it didn’t go down well with the Argentinians. Why did a brand need to feel sorry for using ‘our local’ products? Needless to say, there was a Twitter backlash within hours, following which the brand apologised and communicated its original intention.

I’m sure someone from the creative at Volkswagen must be regretting not sticking to the ‘Talking newspaper ad’ campaign they had launched two years back. This whole ‘shiver’ thing is far from being innovative; its irritating!

UPDATE: Volkswagen India Twitter has responded after 3 and half days saying its Twitter handle was compromised and the issue is being investigated upon.

Vinaya Naidu

Co-Founder and Blogger at Lighthouse Insights. A student of life, art and building relationships. Love to read just about anything and strongly believe that books make a beautiful world.

Twitter - More Posts