The backlash against Volkswagen for its ill-timed name change in the States has continued as the car maker was forced to issue an apology.
The company told US media on Tuesday that it would be changing its name to ‘Voltswagen’ to showcase its electric range, which was widely reported as fact.
However, it transpired that the move was supposed to be an April Fool’s Day joke that was leaked two days early.
When reporters questioned the company, official spokespeople confirmed it was true leading to a number of false reports appearing in the press.
The company back-tracked a day later and admitted it was a hoax.
Nathan Bomey, a reporter for USA Today which is read by 2.6m Americans a day, was furious he was ‘lied to’ by the company.
He tweeted: ‘Dear Volkswagen: You lied to me. You lied to AP, CNBC, Reuters and various trade pubs.
‘This was not a joke. It was deception. In case you hadn’t noticed, we have a misinformation problem in this country. Now you’re part of it. Why should anyone trust you again?’
The manufacturer broke the cardinal rule of April Fool’s Day jokes which is not holding their hands up when asked if it’s a gag.
Bomey added, in a thread of tweets: ‘I asked my VW source directly: Yes, I see the announcement, but this is a joke, right? No, it’s not a joke, he said. Now they admit it was.
‘I am astonished that a company that — just a few years ago, mind you — paid $30 billion in penalties and pled guilty to criminal charges for **deceiving its customers and regulators to pollute the earth** now thinks it’s funny to lie to reporters.’
Dear Volkswagen: You lied to me. You lied to AP, CNBC, Reuters and various trade pubs. This was not a joke. It was deception. In case you hadn’t noticed, we have a misinformation problem in this country. Now you’re part of it. Why should anyone trust you again? https://t.co/1rcKT7p0u5
— Nathan Bomey (@NathanBomey) March 30, 2021
Ray Massey, motoring editor of the Daily Mail, also tweeted about the gaff extensively yesterday and said the biggest cock-up was not admitting it was a joke.
One read: ‘April Fool stories are a pain but there is a general “fair play” form that if they are to run they are flagged 00.01hrs April 1 – not before. And if challenged/ rumbled, they fess up.
‘VW appears to have done neither of these things. So why do it at all?’
Not in the minds of customers it won’t. If any of them even noticed! But for the PR team, it will erode trust with the journalists they need to do business, especially in US. The idea was stupid; lying in response to media Q’s was the big mistake.
— Philip Hale (@hepaintscaves) March 31, 2021
News publications that reported the name change as fact were forced to issue apologies to readers.
A spokesperson for Associated Press said the agency was ‘was repeatedly assured by Volkswagen that its US subsidiary planned a name change, and reported that information, which we now know to be false’.
Even Sky News reported the story as fact saying that VW was ‘planning the name change from May’.
It’s not quite clear how the story was leaked two days before April Fool’s Day. Some reports suggest the press release was mistakenly published on the Volkswagen website early and some reporters picked it up.
Instead of admitting it was a joke then, the company press department decided to continue with the gag early – and the timing appears to have caused the issue, two days before news outlets would have been keeping an eye out for April Fool’s Day jokes.
The FT reported that the announcement even shifted the share price. The company’s US listed American Depositary Receipts rose 16 per cent, until the group admitted it was a hoax – leading to them falling five per cent.
VW told the FT that moving the share price ‘was not and is not the aim of the campaign’.
VW boss Herbert Diess joined Twitter at the turn of the year with a dig at Tesla boss Elon Musk.
It’s quite clear the German firm wants to be more like the American electric car maker and make more noise on social media to bring attention to its electric car range.
Hello @Twitter! I’m here to make an impact with @VWGroup, especially on political issues. And, of course, to get some of your market shares, @elonmusk – after all, our ID.3 and e-tron have won the first markets in Europe. Looking forward to productive discussions!
— Herbert Diess (@Herbert_Diess) January 20, 2021
A spokesperson for VW said: ‘The intention was to generate awareness of an important corporate and industry issue in the country. We regret that the announcement rollout may have upset some people.’
Some industry commentators applauded the car maker for the ‘PR stunt’. One wrote on LinkedIn: ‘This was great PR – and it worked.’
It certainly could be argued that despite the gaff, the stunt got a lot more attention across the world than a standard April Fool’s Day joke would. But we’d hazard a guess that wasn’t VW’s intention… but they’ll take it.
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