SAN DIEGO - Kerri Martin, director of brand marketing, outlined her goal: to "make the VW brand famous and relevant again." How is this feat to be accomplished? By pushing speed and performance. "The need for speed defines the hot hatch car enthusiast," Martin explained. The "Mark V will be true to this European tuning culture." Right up front, surrounding the honeycomb grille, is a "red line that says 'move over.'"
As anyone who's watched much TV lately knows already, the GTI's theme is "Make friends with your fast." Picking up that concept, Martin noted that "it's all about fast," including an online launch dubbed "Project Fast." Visitors to the special web site are asked 13 questions, such as: "At what speed does fast begin?" and "What speed is too fast?"
They're rewarded with a virtual "joy ride," accompanied by a white-leather-clad lady named Helga, who encourages them to hit the gas pedal even harder than they might ordinarily. "Are you a man or a woman?" Helga asks the potential owner who's retrieved her from cyberspace. "You drive like a little girl," this virtual dominatrix declares with a sneer, her jauntily tilted cap suggesting a possible S&M experience rather than a road simulation.
Virtual drivers are urged to "smoke out the competition," Martin suggested, "ending with the 'Auf wiedersehen sucka' message." GTI buyers even get their very own "fast" creature (which looks like a scrunched bowling ball with beady eyes). As the early TV commercials indicate, the youthful male owner might have to eschew a few elements of ordinary life, including relationships with women, in order to fully enjoy the fruits of the GTI purchase. Viewers are urged to go "fast as schnell," which is a tad redundant since "schell" means fast in German.
Volkswagen also is focusing on few-frills design and a straightforward image, shunning the stylistic excesses and flashiness that have invaded the tuner-car market in recent years. No monstrous tails or scissors-style doors here. The GTI stands for straight-up performance. Online, Helga and her video accomplice, Werner, suggest that it's "time to unpimp mein auto," a theme that's carried over into print ads. Hip-hop culture isn't forgotten, though, as Volkswagen will be selling such specialty gear as a GTI Full Zip Hoodie.
During the media presentation in San Diego, "Dr. A. Keller" appeared on video, credited (with tongue presumably in cheek) as VW's "cultural anthropologist." Mainly, the good doctor lauded the merits of the speed culture in general and Volkswagen's response in particular. "Inside almost all of us is a fast," he declared. "We wanted the GTI to make your fast happy." Keller pulls no punches in his recommendations, stating that the red stripe around the GTI's grille translates to "Move over, dumkopf, in a hurry." Of course, the driver ahead can't see that red stripe unless the GTI is pretty close behind, so the move-over suggestion is already implied, and not in a gentle manner.
"You might find some naysayers to speed out there," Martin admitted, but her response to that challenge leaned more toward belligerent attitude than credible concern. Asked about "social responsibility" during the media presentation, Martin asserted that "we take safety very, very seriously," assuring journalists that Volkswagen is "just having some fun with it, not taking it seriously."