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Volkswagen is switching its marketing mix to digital for all the wrong reasons

Volkswagen hit the headlines this week with the announcement that it will be focussing more on digital marketing in the coming years, as it aims for online activity to become 50% of marketing expenditure, up from just 25% in 2016.

That’s a drastic change in just two very short years. I’ve long been a proponent of digital marketing – putting my neck on the line by choosing a career path that was very unstable nine years ago. But over the past six months alone, the shift away from traditional marketing methods has been seismic. What Volkswagen is doing here represents such trends.

Volkswagen will rightly be utilising online content, AI, personal online IDs and more to cut out dealer interactions and is expected to see a 70% growth in website traffic by 2020.

However, something about the announcement was particularly irksome. As reported by Automotive News Europe: “[The] Volkswagen brand will streamline its marketing operations to become 30 per cent more efficient by 2020, relying more heavily on cheaper digital advertising than traditional print or television channels.”


According to the Volkswagen release, overall marketing budgets will remain the same at around €1.5 billion, but marketing outputs will increase five-fold.

Digital marketing isn’t an excuse to cut budgets or done to deliberately save costs. Simply taking your current outputs and atomising the messaging into small chunks for the digital world will not be effective, especially in the ultra-competitive B2C monopoly that is the car market.

Online platforms are undoubtedly the future, but Volkswagen’s new focus is concerning. To grab someone’s attention online is more of a challenge because the consumer is in control. They can get the same news from a million different websites, they scroll through thousands of social media posts on a daily basis and they aren’t fixed by subscribing to one car magazine or recording one channel to VHS. They can skip between multiple sources and often do.


Digital marketing is an opportunity to be different. More than ever, investing in exciting creative concepts will come to the fore. Phlegmatic advertising methods of a clean new car driven at night in an urban environment by a 30-something, ending in a finance deal, does not stand out. If you want my attention, be innovative, funny and entertaining.

Those who embrace the power of the influencer, new and exciting social media advertising methods and believe that content is king will succeed. Remember, there is the constant threat of autonomous vehiclesUber and car-sharing schemes, a burden to the car industry. Making your marketing mix learn towards digital is all fine and well on paper (or, a screen as it happens…), but fail to titivate the senses and the audience will become disinclined not just towards a specific brand, but car ownership altogether.

Volkswagen, I agree with your digital strategy to an extent, but you’re going about it in the wrong way. Reducing costs and improving efficiency are not the main reasons for moving away from traditional methods – cutting through the fat with exciting new messages is. Long live creativity.