A brand is a social construct and as such it does not exist in a vacuum. It is socially and historically contextual. A brand narrative draws upon these contexts and informs our understanding and our emotional relationships that they engender.
The recent issues facing Volkswagen bring these connections into sharp focus. When we consider the brand values of VW, we see them as shared and deeply embedded in those of the German auto industry in general. They include technical and engineering expertise, quality of manufacture and attention to detail. These qualities we see shared and associated with other individual brands such as Mercedes and BMW.
If many VW values are shared and embedded in our perceptions of German car manufacture, they also draw upon what the world may see as German national values. These may include probity, rule-following, bureaucratic fussiness and openness.
It’s easy to see how VW has enjoyed and built its brand persona upon the wider perceptions of both the industry and national values.
However, just as the brand may suffer from any failure in the encompassing brand values – the converse is also true. VW’s apparent lapse in standards, running contrary to our perception of their values, also has repercussions for the German auto industry as a whole. We may question the brand values of the whole cohort.
As the ripples spread out, long-held impressions of German national principles and brand dimensions cannot avoid damage. This in turn may affect and cause us to questions those values as attributed to other businesses and brands closely identified with national characteristics.
It is a salutary reminder that no brand is an island and value it may acquire or inherit from a sector, industry or a nation is synergic. All may prosper or suffer damage from the actions of others.