Volkswagen has always built cars for the people, its brand name in German and Chinese literally meaning the ‘People’s Car’, but facing increased competition, the consumer’s perception of Volkswagen as an innovator had been challenged – putting it behind key rivals. Additionally, dealers traditionally own the customer relationship – making it difficult for Volkswagen to strike direct dialogue with current or future customers or to derive key insights to shape future innovation.
Two clear objectives emerged - to establish Volkswagen as the most innovative auto brand in China and to measurably improve the perception of the brand as innovative, and to enable, a deep, direct, long-term dialogue with the people of China. The rise of a new middle class, coupled with rapid growth of online usage means a fertile environment to discuss social and economic issues, brands and products has evolved. The most free and open forum in China is the social internet where people create, contribute and discuss content more fervently than most countries globally. These factors gave the perfect conditions to create an open-innovation program that would re-imagine how cars are designed, developed and marketed. Harnessing the power of crowdsourcing, people were first inspired to develop ideas in and around cars, providing interactive online tools for them to realize and showcase them.
Ideas were socialized to stimulate voting and commentary, and finally, the best and most unique ideas were passed to Volkswagen engineers and designers to evaluate and ultimately to co-create the next People’s Car. This required a drastic shift in Volkswagen’s overall business strategy: instead of building cars for the people, it would begin building cars with the people. Hence the Peoples Car Project was anchored on a first-of-its-kind online dialogue platform that delivers compelling content, interactive 3D tools, gamificiation and unique social experiences. The platform is socially enabled - integrating content and functionality with all major social networks, to facilitate seamless exchanges between our platform and user’s existing social communities.
In the first year, multiple thematically driven campaigns were launched to stimulate dialogue on highly topical subjects including design, customization, environment, and connectivity - delivering new content daily, weekly, and monthly. To inspire people, everything they knew about cars needed to be reset. To achieve this, an iconic device was needed that would be instantly recognizable, both as a Volkswagen initiativeand in its own right. It needed to be engaging, playful, branded and customisable. The ‘Flubber Car’ was created, a unique 3D design that morphs to the ideas of consumers – activating it uniquely across multiple channels. Web films arrested people’s attention by introducing Flubber car personalities. Stunts made the virtual real by bringing life-size Flubber cars into local neighbourhoods. Events put Flubber cars into people’s hands via augmented reality, interactive kiosks and physical models. The online platform enabled people to design and customize Flubber cars with their own ideas. TV, out of home and print brought the Flubber car to the masses by sparking broad awareness. Mobile Apps enabled Flubber cars to travel anywhere.