Letter perfect: How VW can learn from the Y

Something has been bugging me lately, and maybe it’s been bugging you too. Volkswagen has been airing commercials that are ruining a good thing—the Punch Buggy game.

They would be good commercials, except for one thing—VW is changing the game. The game is known as Punch Buggy or SlugBug, and has been played by people across the globe for decades. (Check out Google results for Punch Buggy rules.)

The first person who spots a VW Beetle (also known as a VW Bug) punches the person next to him, saying “Punch buggy red!” for example, if it’s a red Beetle.

Volkswagen now is trying to change the game that fans have loved for so long. Any VW passes by and one guy hits the next saying, “Red one!”

Wrong—all wrong!

They could learn a few lessons from the YMCA, who recently announced a name change to simply “the Y.” Why did they do it? Because that’s what people who use their facilities call it.

No one, or at least very few people, say “YMCA.” We all just call it “the Y.” And even the not-for-profit Y knows smart marketing when they hear it.

As for VW, only two reasons can explain the gross misinterpretation of the Punch Buggy game:

  1. They don’t know their own brand and/or don’t understand how the game is played.
  2. They are trying to get people to play the game with all VW cars.

The sad part is, number one is not true. But stupidity would be preferable to the arrogance of a brand trying to takeover such an established fan game.

VW calls this new game “PunchDub” and ties it into their tagline by saying “With 13 different models it’s a whole new Volkswagen and a whole new game.”

It is. And it’s called trying to manipulate the crowd into helping Volkswagen turn a profit in the U.S. after eight straight years of loss.

A smarter move would’ve been to use the real Punch Buggy game to get people’s attention first. Offer something creative with fan participation that has a chance of going viral (like Ford’s Fiesta Movement).

Build trust, build buzz, and then start finding new ways to get those people interested in all your 13 different models.

Maybe someone in charge at VW should talk to Kate Coleman, senior vice president and chief marketing officer for the Y. She can tell you that listening to (and respecting) your customers is “…a way of being warmer, more genuine, more welcoming.”

Don’t you think that sounds like a recipe for a good brand?


One comment

  1. Christine Marie · July 20, 2010

    I have been so torn with this commercial. I fondly look back on all the years of socking my friends in the arm when a Bug drove by. They can’t just change a tried and true game like this. I’m outraged! I refuse to give in to changing the rules of this game, but mainly because I can’t spot any old VW as easily as I can a VW Bug.

    The problem? The commercial is hysterical. I give them credit for that. What’s as much fun as punching your friend in Beetle tradition? Watching everyone else get a jolt, as well.

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