Branding, Hippies and the NFL

Watching my Seahawks play the Cardinals last night, I was struck by Volkswagen’s latest ad campaign. Perhaps taking a page out of Subaru’s “love promise” – pitching its brand over products – the German automaker is pledging to put “people first.”

The spot features hippies cramming into a 1960s VW microbus during a rain storm. Stuck in the mud, some other bohemians driving a VW Beetle hop out to help push their new-found friends out of a jam. It’s got a very Woodstock vibe to it, with Joe Cocker’s “With a Little Help from My Friends” playing in the background. The ad concludes with a new “People First” warranty.

Volkswagen is doing something very intentional, and ­– in my opinion – rightfully so.

Do you remember how the automaker cheated pollution emissions testing in 2015? Global sales fell 2% in the wake of the emissions scandal. This year, however, sales are up 9.2% as they bring vigor back to the brand. They are reminding drivers why you fell in love with Volkswagen in the first place.

What was the key to the rise of Volkswagen?

Decades ago, Volkswagen was part of a counterculture movement. Those against America’s wars found a reliable and affordable alternative outside of Detroit. Their VW minibuses became known as “hippie vans” as they were used to transport groups to anti-war rallies. The brand was a symbol of peace, love and happiness, but that took a back seat when the carmaker became dishonest.

Now we have a brand returning to its roots with a major media buy with the National Football League that has been hampered by political controversy over anthem protests. I get giddy with excitement when the timing, the message and the branding are all in sync.

When I talk with credit unions and community banks across the country, I share with them the importance of branding. When someone encounters your financial institution, consider how they might feel about your intentions. Likewise, how might consumers perceive your ability to carry out or keep those intentions?

Meanwhile, a year after Wells Fargo opened 1.4 million unauthorized accounts for customers, there’s even more negative press. Their response has been horrible – leaving a bad impression.

Whether you are for or against the national anthem protests, the NFL has made several missteps in how to handle it. And Papa Johns CEO John Schnatter’s public remarks about the NFL hurts his own brand more than putting a spotlight on the NFL. Hey John, you know what they say about opinions? They’re like, well, you know… and everyone’s got one. Get back to telling your brand story.

Whether your credit union or bank is a relatively unknown trying to find your brand story, or you are one of a thousand financial institutions still pushing rate or service, let’s get back to what’s important in the lives of the people you serve. After all, they are the ones that truly matter.

Frank Allgood has more than 15 years of experience in every facet of public information and marketing communications. As Relationships & Results Leader for Your Marketing Co., he is responsible for strategic brand experiences and marketing initiatives for credit unions and community banks across the country. For branding or rebranding projects, call 864.326.8740 or email