Volkswagen is sorry. But it’s not exactly saying so in a new ad campaign.
The world’s largest automaker has been on something of an apology tour since 2015, when it was publicly accused of using illegal software in its diesel cars to dupe pollution tests. The company was slammed with criminal charges, lawsuits and billions of dollars in government fines.
Volkswagen Group was sorry again in March when its chief executive officer, Herbert Diess, posted an apology on LinkedIn after making remarks that echoed the Nazi-era slogan “Arbeit macht frei.” The expression, which means “Work sets you free,” appeared on the gates of Auschwitz and other concentration camps.
With the new marketing push, the company wants to move on from its self-inflicted wounds.
“We’ve offered thousands of apologies,” said Scott Keogh, who became chief executive of Volkswagen’s American unit in November. “For us, this wasn’t about the apology — we’ve been doing that. This is the reassessment of the brand, of the company, and how we want to move forward.”
In the print and video ads, released in the United States starting on Wednesday, Volkswagen nods to the scandal before shifting focus to its coming line of electric vehicles and other projects. Communication experts said the company might have a hard time bringing skeptics on board as it tries to pull off this U-turn.
“It is difficult for Volkswagen to run advertising on the environmental front, because that’s exactly where they got into trouble,” said Tim Calkins, a marketing professor at Northwestern University.
In one of the new commercials, snippets of news broadcasts about the scandal are followed by the strains of Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sounds of Silence” and the appearance of a Volkswagen employee, swathed in shadow, who is meant to represent the company’s “soul-searching,” Mr. Keogh said. Eventually, a glowing Volkswagen I.D. Buzz, an electric minivan planned for production in 2022, cuts through the gloom. The video ends with these words: “In the darkness, we found the light.”
The “Rebirth” campaign was designed by the agency Johannes Leonardo, which counts Adidas and Google among its clients. The commercials will run a few weeks before giving way to a series of ads meant to hammer home the notion that a company recently caught cheating is now embracing environmentalism and setting aside what it calls “self-interest.”