This Volkswagen missed the boat.
The chrome strip on the glove
compartment is blemished and
must be replaced. Chances are
you wouldn't have noticed it;
Inspector Kurt Kroner did.
There are 3,389 men of our
Wolfsburg factory with only one
job; to inspect Volkswagens at
each stage of production. (3,000
Volkswagens are produced daily;
there are more inspectors than
Every shock absorber is tested
(spot checking won't do), every
windshield is scanned. VWs have
been rejected for surface
scratches barely visible to the
Final inspection is really something!
VW inspectors run each car off
the line onto the Funktionsprüfstand
(car test stand), tote up 189 check
points, gun ahead to the automatic
brake stand and say "no" to one
VW out of fifty.
This preoccupation with detail
means the VW lasts longer and
requires less maintenance, by
and large, than other cars. (It also
means a used VW depreciates less
than any other car.)
We pluck the lemons; you get the
Especially if you are of a certain age, it resonates.
Created by advertising great Bill Bernbach, it is possibly the most famous ad in the history of Volkswagen.
Well, maybe until Deutsch-created the "Darth Vader kid" commercial that played in the 2012 Super Bowl.
Deutsch's ad is greatly loved, but has very little to do with any actual reason to buy a Volkswagen. It's a story about a kid and keychain remote.
It's merely cute.
It could be an ad for any car with keyless entry.
Bernbach's ad is a much better sales tool.
And now, it's also much more ironic than anyone could have imagined.
The big question is...
HOW THE HELL?
How does the world's largest auto maker perpetrate a scam like the bogus emissions testing debacle that, as of this writing, has sent VW stock plummeting by almost a third?
There is nothing in the "Lemon" advertisement that hints at the possibility that VW would one day be capable of such foolishness.
On the contrary, it seems impossible.
In an effort to better understand this extraordinary breach of consumer trust, an interesting phrase has popped up: "Normalization of deviance."
The normalization of deviance comes about when someone commits a transgression, wittingly or not, yet everything works out OK.
So subsequently, it seems OK for people to keep purposely committing that error.
So they do.
And other mistakes are gradually heaped on top of that.
A WORST-CASE RESULT IS NASA
The culture at the space agency became so rife with the need to fly that faulty O-rings and heat shields were allowed to become the norm.
Integrity was replaced by willful ignorance.
Eventually the results were catastrophic.
It's hard to know exactly what cascading episodes of stupidity led to VW's normalization of deviance.
And it's truly epic.
The thing is, how much normalization of deviance happens in everyday life without such catastrophic results?
SEE ALSO: TEXTING WHILE DRIVING
This has to be one of the most idiotic manifestations of normalization of deviance.
"I can text and drive fine! I've never had a wreck!"
Eventually, some driver ends up with the impression of an iPhone in his forehead thanks to the airbag on his Jetta.
But at least the Jetta passed the emissions test.
Normalization of deviance crops up in very small and nefarious ways, too.
Nobody will ever die.
But things just don't happen the way they should.
ADVERTISING IS RIFE WITH IT
Decisions are routinely made in violation of best practices.
A good direct response copywriter can look at a piece of ad copy and tell you right away if something in it is wrong.
But the copy runs anyway.
Because something in it makes the advertiser feel good.
And the executives handling that client would rather make the advertiser feel good than tell him his ad won't work.
"THE CLIENT WANTS TO PUT HIS PHONE NUMBER IN THE COMMERCIAL"
"He shouldn't do it. The ad is working."
"He wants it."
"The phone number will only confuse people and distract them from the real call to action, which is 'come into the store now.' That's the only way to get the offer."
"But the first week it ran, people kept calling him about the ad."
"Yes, and they found his phone number even though it wasn't in the commercial. That should tell you something."
"He wants the phone number in the ad."
"It's not going to work. It's going to kill the results."
So, under orders, it gets done.
And what happens?
AS PREDICTED, THE ADVERTISING STOPS WORKING
And the client walks away his advertising saying radio doesn't work.
All because fear and ego stand in the way of smart thinking.
Where's the integrity?
Where's the executive who's supposed to look out for the advertiser's best interests?
If he tells the advertiser, "No," what's the worst that happens?
The advertiser leaves and takes his money with him?
Guess what: it happened anyway.
And this happens all the time.
Bad advertising happens because a client insist he wants it the way he wants it and nobody will stop it.
Letting this happen becomes a way of doing business.
"NO" IS A POWERFUL WORD
It can save lives.
It can save money.
It can save reputations.
And in the case of Volkswagen's normalized deviant behavior, "no" would have definitely saved money and reputations.
It's unlikely that anyone will die over this debacle, but there could be some ruined lives out there.
And as far as reputations go, VW's is shot.
Who is ever going to feel good about an ad for Volkswagen ever again?
Your brand is the one way your core customer should feel about your business.
And VW is now a brand that is considerably more disappointing than a blemished chrome strip on the glove compartment.
Suck on that lemon, my friend.