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Why it is hard to find the humour in Voltswagen’s, sorry Volkswagen’s, April Fool’s prank

What is Voltswagen? And why is everyone upset about it?

March 31, 2021 / 04:45 PM IST

On Tuesday, Volkswagen AG issued a news release and a tweet stating that it was changing the name of its US subsidiary to “Voltswagen”. Naturally, it ran through the news cycle; it was picked up by every major American and international news organisation, several of whom claim to have been assured by Volkswagen, that the news was indeed true.

Except, of course it wasn’t. Although many suspected it to be an April Fool’s prank, most took the news to be real.

So real in fact, that it momentarily shot up VW’s stock by 9%. For its part, VW did everything to make the prank seem authentic – the hallmark of a seasoned prankster. However, given that the brand is just stepping out of the shadow cast by the dieselgate scandal, the humour was, understandably lost, particularly on the media houses which ran the story as authentic.

Why was it so believable? 

Let’s face it, Voltswagen is a great name if you plan on selling only SUVs. VW even went so far as to change the name of its official Twitter handle to “Voltswagen” stating, in an official tweet “We know, 66 is an unusual age to change your name, but we’ve always been young at heart. Introducing Voltswagen.

Similar to Volkswagen, but with a renewed focus on electric driving. Starting with our all-new, all-electric SUV the ID.4 - available today” . Had this tweet been sent on April Fool’s day, it would have been clear to see through. However, VW launching it prematurely had everyone convinced that this is the next logical move for the brand, as it sets its sights on Silicon Valley, with the launch of the all-electric SUV - the ID.4.

According to Forbes, the president and CEO of Volkswagen of America, also put out a statement saying “We might be changing out our K for a T, but what we aren't changing is this brand's commitment to making best-in-class vehicles for drivers and people everywhere”.

However, according to The Washington Post, an email statement was sent out by Volkswagen spokesperson Mark Gillies, that “there will be no renaming of Volkswagen of America”. The twitter handle remains unchanged and still reads “Voltswagen”.

Why was it not well-received?

Volkswagen isn’t the first car brand to send out a gag news release prior to, or on April Fool’s day. From morphed images of existing cars to redesigned logos and silly modifications - the tongue-in-cheek nature of these pranks has always been very apparent.

But times have changed.  New outlets hate fake news more than anything else. Especially in the US, where the country’s new cycle appears to be going through an authenticity crisis. For its part, Volkswagen of America put out such an air-tight prank that it was the most widely-covered prank in April Fool’s history.

And with car brands doubling-down on their EV portfolio lately, it only made sense that Volkswagen would use this moment to create an EV sub-brand (through an admittedly clever bit of wordplay) in the aftermath of its most challenging PR setback in recent years – Dieselgate.

But the general consensus is that the tweet was less comedic and more deceptive in nature. This claim is backed by American news giants like the Associated Press and CNBC News having reached out to the brand for confirmation of the authenticity of their statement and receiving a response in the affirmative.

Perhaps these are acutely sensitive times and media outlets do not enjoy partaking in deliberate form of deception. Perhaps it was a masterfully executed prank and media houses are too embarrassed to find the humour in it.

Whatever the case may be, the clichéd notion of Germans being somewhat deficient in the humour department, has been obliterated. For one, it’s America that isn’t laughing.

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Parth Charan is a Mumbai-based writer who’s written extensively on cars for over seven years.
first published: Mar 31, 2021 04:45 pm