The aftermath of Volkswagen’s emissions scandal (nicknamed ‘dieselgate’) has just started. In September 2015, customers were told that the falsified emissions reports would affect not more than 482,000 cars, but since then, this number has risen to more than 11 million. That figure makes VW’s scandal counts as the second largest car recall in history, only outnumbered by Ford’s failure-to-park recall in 1980, which affected 21 million vehicles. However, Ford’s recall was not based on a carefully planned fraud like Volkswagen’s.
Cheating on purpose leads to much more severe brand damage than when unintended failures happen. Although VW might be able to bear the US$10 billion in estimated costs resulting from their falsifying of emissions reports, brand damage of an unknown extent might be an even bigger loss for VW and its related companies, including Skoda, Audi and Seat. Restoring the reputation of these brands is likely to be a lengthy, complex task. None of these car manufacturers have the leeway to make further mistakes that will negatively affect the perceptions of consumers.
Looking at Skoda, the Czech automobile manufacturer which now is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Volkswagen Group, has in recent months increased visibility of its slogan “Simply clever“. Before the dieselgate scandal, this slogan had successfully enriched Skoda’s brand image on many different levels. But according to a recent study by Verdicta.com, this motto associates Skoda with the emissions scandal. The continuing use of the slogan reminds consumers of Skoda’s involvement in fraudulent activities.
Why does the “Simply clever” slogan link Skoda to unethical behaviour?
It’s the word “clever”. People assume that a certain level of intelligence, knowledge, and mental agility would be required to create emissions software that could allow cars to detect when they were being tested so that they could alter their perforance accordingly. Most people probably would imagine that an average person would never be capable of planning such a deceitful operation. In using the word “clever,” Skoda is reminding clients and future customers not just about the cleverness behind Skoda production, but also about the intelligence that was necessary to dupe consumer authorities worldwide.
Apparently, Skoda is not familiar with this negative brand association because the company puts the “Simply clever” logo at the top of its webpage about car recalls due to the emission scandal:
Given the toxic consumer sentiments brought on by the emissions scandal, it might be a good idea for Skoda to stop using the “Simply clever” slogan for a while, until VW, Skoda, Audi and Seat earn higher levers of trust and regain dignity for their brands. Skoda’s customers want more than a well-designed car. They want to purchase from a reliable and reputable car manufacturer.