VW- Creating worlds for Volkswagen
Rising Internet access among consumers in the late 1990s precipitated significant reappraisals of marketing strategies within large, brand-owning corporations. New, fast-moving online enterprises were building direct relationships with consumers and brand marketers had to rapidly adapt.
Volkswagen’s response was a combined, online and offline strategy to connect not only directly, but also more comprehensively with target markets. The physical realisation of this was Autostadt, a £270 million ‘see it to believe it’ city of stunning, architect-designed pavilions and museums where people could engage with the Volkswagen Group brands, products and heritage.
Volkswagen was determined to make a similar impact in the online world. Its search for talent brought it to Gerrie Villon, founder and director of V-On.
The key objective for the online interpretation of VW’s strategy was to target markets untouched by Autostadt. Gerrie Villon was invited by Volkswagen to lead a research project to identify these groups and propose long-term policies for online experiences that would engage with their interests and needs.
The study exposed the extent to which young people influence car purchasing decisions. The subsequent brief for the V-On agency was simple yet expansive: develop an online world for the young, as engaging and entertaining as Autostadt.
V-On proposed a portal website encompassing a breadth of content uncommon at the time. Aimed at future drivers between the ages of 14 and 20, it recreated online the sense of freedom and independence that comes from driving, while fostering emotional bonds between the users and the Volkswagen brand.
Branded as Zoon, development of the portal was a major undertaking spanning two years. V-On developed early social networking tools, enabling users to interact with each other and make friends. Magazine content, generated by a full time editorial staff, provided young users with news and features relevant to their lives. A travel section aimed at older teenagers offered tips and city guides for European cities, with an events finder listing clubs and chillout spots.
Practical value came through a virtual driving licence feature that prepared users for their theoretical driving exam – a key first step for any aspiring driver. A music zone, offering track samples, mixing tools and an online DJ coach, as well as the latest music news, releases and live interviews with musicians, provided creative recreation. Finally, the entertaining yet relaxing ZoonZone supplied a visually arresting ambient space to stimulate creativity and discovery.
V-On was also commissioned to create branding for Zoon and to produce a cinema advertisement, eventually screened as Robozoon, to launch the site.
Zoon was quite unlike any website that had gone before it and was rapidly embraced by its intended audience. Within a year of launch, approximately 300,000 users were using the portal on a regular basis – a huge figure given Internet penetration at the time.
The popularity was such that Volkswagen extended the concept of Zoon into the physical world with VW Youth Lounge. Built within the Sony Center in Berlin, this echoes the portal with experiences that include ‘pods’ for live, moderated online interaction. It has become Germany’s favourite venue for launches to the youth market.
The Sales Perspective
V-On’s Zoon project was part of Volkswagen’s strategic response to changes in consumer markets wrought by the emergence of the Internet. Innovative initiatives that build relationships with prospective customers have enabled the Group to increase its leadership in the European car market
The Marketing Perspective
V-On’s Zoon project was the basis of Volkswagen’s direct interaction with the youth market on its own terms. The VW Youth Lounge and the expansion of online accessibility has continued to secure this market space, additionally fostering parents’ bonds with Volkswagen in preference to other manufacturers.
The Operational Perspective
V-On’s Zoon project has enabled Volkswagen to create and sustain ongoing engagement with potential future consumers. With the youth market readily able to assimilate with online environments, Volkswagen’s leadership in this space helps drive down costs in the long-term.
The Internet Perspective
The Zoon project was a groundbreaking step in the direction of online virtual environments, predating the rise of such immersive constructs as Second Life. It also showed pioneering spirit in its use of social networking assets, bringing a taste of the Web 2.0 experience years before Facebook and Twitter.
"Finding ways to get the ambivalent or ‘unready’ engaged with cars is tough, but the advent of the consumer Internet presented Volkswagen with a unique opportunity. V-On responded to our brief with unbridled creativity and delivered a truly original online experience."
Cornelia Lenz - VOLKSWAGEN INTERNET MARKETING, CRM & E-GAMING