Betta Forgetta Jetta

Volkswagen needs a shot in the arm. And has needed one for more than 20 years.

I had a friend who owned a Jetta back around 1998, and she had me test drive it to see if I liked it. I ended up buying a new one in 2000: a nice black one with a 5-speed stick. I enjoyed that car for over ten years. The body style of the one I bought had been brought out the year before, and I could feel that VW was maybe on a track to upscale their Jetta designs to appeal to more design-conscious customers.

But that never happened. For some reason, VW seems to rely on its image as “people movers” and not much beyond that.

The Jetta never really took off. I had a business acquaintance who purchased a Jetta in 2011, and that design was pretty dull by any marketing standard. Compared to my 2000 car, the 2011 model was anything but new looking. If anything—given the eleven year difference—it was a step backward. The car never made it to the design threshold of fun to drive and exciting to look at.

Any automobile manufacturer designs their fleet of vehicles to match up to a given target market. And those target markets are usually designated by age or interest group, or by a certain affluence. The Jetta was originally aimed at younger buyers, while the Passat was a definite step up in size, price and appointments. The VW CC, their top premium model car, had been discontinued after the 2017 model year due to low sales. As of this year, the Jetta and Passat are the only VW compact and midsize models in the non-Beetle or Golf configurations.

But this column today is not so much about automotive design as it is about marketing: Volkswagen has always confounded me in the way they advertise some models—and not others at all. A few years ago, you’d see TV ads for Jettas and maybe occasional ads for Passats or Beetles. Never for the Golf or the GTI, their two sportiest cars. And in this day and age of the SUV (which personally goes against my grain, but that’s another story), their Tiguan gets barely a mention and the Atlas nary a whisper, both of which are about to outsell the Jetta.

Of course, as many already know, VW is part of a larger conglomerate—the Volkswagen Group. Formerly known as Volkswagen Porsche Audi, the group has taken on additional marques in the last twenty or so years. They also own Bugatti and Lamborghini, among other lesser known brands.

The Jetta remains the lowest priced car in VW’s corral. At around $20K, the car sits in rather squat and stodgy company: the Honda Civic, the Mazda 3, the Kia Forté, and the Toyota Corolla. Not a very exciting bunch.

The TV ad pictured above does everything it possibly can to entice you to buy the Jetta. The car dances around the stage (a well-crafted 3D animation) to a loud electronic dance beat. It moves, it shakes, it swivels, it shifts side to side. It almost break-dances. This must’ve been a real gambit for the marketing team, for two different reasons: 1) the Jetta doesn’t look very sporty and they tried to give it props it doesn’t have, aided in part by the voiceover; and 2) the small sedan is on its way out among most manufacturers’ fleet. VW earlier this spring announced it will soon discontinue its flagship Beetle.

So this ad series for the Jetta is obviously a last gasp at trying to sell a not-very-exciting car. Like anything else in design, differentiation is key to getting noticed in any arena. There are many cars to choose from if you’re in the market, and seeing this car on the road or in the showroom doesn’t get the blood boiling enough to garner a glance.

Betta Getta Jetta before they disappear, I guess. But this nondescript car will not be missed.



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