Volkswagen pledges to put people first

Looking to recover from dealership closures, the automaker positions flexible financing plans as a way to help people get back to their communities.
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When Volkswagen Canada dealers in Ontario and Quebec closed due to COVID-19 in March, it posed a major business challenge.

For one, those two provinces are the two biggest markets for the car company. Secondly, even as many service and “after sales” departments were allowed to reopen, not being able to sell vehicles and interact directly with customers in a sales environment due to COVID-19 caused “a major slowdown,” as Lynne Piette, director of marketing at Volkswagen Canada, describes.

“That was the hardest hit for us,” she says.  “When some of your business relies heavily on the sale of new vehicles, and you can’t do that in your two biggest markets, that has an impact on the business R.O.I.”

As local regulations have allowed, Volkswagen has kept up its connection with consumers by offering them virtual sales appointments and virtual dealership walk-arounds through Facebook Live and Instagram Live. It is also offering services like going to pick up and deliver a customer’s vehicle, and bringing the test-drive experience to their home.

“Some of our dealers have gone on and done things a little bit differently than they typically would have to still keep an open dialogue with our customers and be able to showcase some of our vehicles,” Piette says.

But even as dealerships across Canada – including, as of last week, those in Ontario and Quebec – have been given the ability to reopen, according to the latest wave of COVID-19 research by Mindshare, consideration for a new vehicle purchase remains low. Further, nearly half of Canadians aren’t comfortable doing anything related to the car-buying experience, be it visiting a dealership, getting a car serviced, buying a car online or having a sales rep come to their house. However, the factors most likely motivate them to buy a vehicle are related to price; either being able to afford it, or receiving a deal due to COVID-19.

Volkswagen recently launched its “People First Promise,” which, according to Piette, address these challenges by emphasizing a “pledge to all Canadians” to put accessibility, safety and community at the forefront of everything it is doing.

A new 30-second spot debuting the “Promise” –  created by WPP’s dedicated Volkswagen agency Type 1 – looks ahead to when “the engine of life will start up again,” showing shots of a cafe owner opening up his shop and a child getting up for school. Near the end of the spot, the voice-over states “If you need a hand getting started again, we’re here to help,” while also emphasizing contactless buying and test drive ooptions.

The “Promise” includes financing from 0% on select models; flexible payment options such as interest-free 90-day payment deferrals; four years or 60,000 km of no-charge scheduled maintenance on select models; and sanitization of all touch surfaces in Volkswagen dealerships and service areas.

Piette says its research pointed to finance, cleanliness and community as things that were top of mind for Canadians, hence why factors like financing and cleaning were put within the context of “getting back to everything and everyone we missed.”

“Volkswagen is the people’s car brand,” Piette says. “One of the things that we thought during this time was that the ‘People First Promise’ is more than a promise – it’s a commitment, it’s a pledge to put the people in the communities before everything else, during this time. We need to provide options for customers to meet their objectives.”

Piette says Volkswagen Canada has also gone “heavy” into conventional TV for this campaign, which is also appearing on Volkswagen Canada’s website and social media. The media buy was handled by Touché.