Friday, February 16, 2007

Customer Experiences: The VW Phaeton

The new Volkswagen Phaeton commercial titled “What Hands Can Do” (watch it at consisted of numerous hand shadows on a wall to create realistic silhouettes of animals, people, and nature scenes. In Bernd Schmitt’s article, “A Framework for Managing Customer Experiences,” he mentions the 5 Strategic Experiential Modules used to develop customer experiences toward a product/service: Sense, Feel, Think, Act, and Relate. The VW commercial intends to make an impact on consumers by using most of these elements.

First, the commercial employs the sensory experience. According to Bernd, “sense” creates experiences appealing to the sight, sound, taste, touch, or smell. In the ad, the hands were very visual in creating scenes that were expressive and vivid. The fact that they were black and white in shadow form did nothing to detract from the visual stimulation consumers received. The music was also very uplifting and mystical. Furthermore, the shadow puppets adhere to an almost sublime/fantasy theme, appealing to the “feel” experience. Nature and fantasy scenes in general inspire feelings of wonder and peace, both of which are employed artlessly in the ad. Next, Bernd states that the “think” experience “engages customers’ convergent & divergent thinking through surprise, intrigue, & provocation.” At first glance, one would not think to associate the shadow puppets to the Phaeton. It is not until the end of the ad, that viewers realize the meaning behind the motto VW Phaeton: hand-made perfection. Lastly, the ad attempted to affect customers’ bodily experiences and show them an alternative lifestyle through the “act” experience. The selling point of the Phaeton is that it is completely hand-assembled, as opposed to the usual machine-made cars of rivals. VW implies that customers should experience the wonder and perfection of what pure hands can make- in this case, a vehicle like no other.

Volkswagen has always used touchpoints to better relate with customers. In order to improve their customer service, VW adopted 60 Nextel phones equipped with 4-in-1 technology tools with a digital walkie talkie feature and wireless data to help them establish more solid relationships with their customers. Furthermore, they have tapped into the mySAP Relationship Management solution to deliver an integrated, holistic view of their customers, enabling customers to communicate directly with manufacturers via phone rather than go through a dealership. Another touchpoint was VW’s branding technique. They predefined automobile advertising by moving away from convincing consumers that a car will provide a new and better lifestyle but that it would instead improve the lifestyle they already had. For example, the Beetle became a living entity and an extension of the family itself. Throughout its multiple campaigns and ads, Volkswagen touches customers by portraying itself as quirky, unique, likable, fun to drive, and affordable. The only critique I have is that the most recent Phaeton does not live up to the expectations portrayed by its commercials. It seems that the wonderful ad ends with a photo of a rather pedestrian car… not at all like the innovative advertising campaign.

The VW ad was very enjoyable and easy to evaluate, mainly because it fit most of the SEM categories and was relatively straight-forward in its appeal. However, because I’m a very visual and receptive to emotional appeals, I may have been more influenced than someone who is more fact-oriented and practical. Because different customers respond differently to the same ads, it takes great skill to be able to find a common ground that appeals to the majority. However, I think most people would agree that the Volkswagen’s campaign for the Phaeton was indeed unique and refreshing.

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