Star Wars is an epic story of the intergalactic battle between good and evil, with many sub-plots touching on universal themes of romance, loyalty and betrayal. Some attributed the success of the series to its trick of translating the standard mythic story characters of farm boy, magician, princess, fool, pirate and emperor into the space age; resulting in the iconic characters of Luke Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda, Princess Leia, R2-D2, C-3PO, Han Solo, and Anakin Skywalker (alias Darth Vader). The movies and their characters are well-known world-wide, both among younger generations (our bachelor and master students) as well as older generations (like us!).
In the beginning of 2011 Volkswagen, the third largest automobile manufacturer in the world, launched a new spot in the U.S. featuring a pint-sized Darth Vader who uses “the Force” when he discovers the all-new 2012 Passat in the driveway. The spot leverages humour and the Star Wars character Darth Vader to create an emotional commercial, which became popular on television and You Tube - with more than 40 (!) million hits as of July 15, 2011.
In summer 2011 the “green empire” struck back: Greenpeace launched a clever social media campaign to turn Volkswagen away “from the dark side”. Episode I and II feature the main Star Wars characters and have a strong resemblance to the VW commercial “The Force”. The videos can be shared via facebook, twitter, and email. The “Rebel Manifesto” declares: “Our home—Earth—is in trouble. VW opposes key environmental laws we need if we’re going to stop our planet going the way of Alderaan (bye bye). But all is not lost. We feel the good in Volkswagen. All of us in the Rebellion are calling on Volkswagen to turn away from the Dark Side and give our planet a chance.”. Thus, the rebels demand from Volkswagen to:
1) support strong CO2 emissions cuts,
2) support strong fuel efficiency standards, and
3) to put your technology where your mouth is.
The Druid R2-D2 reveals the secret Volkswagen plans to drive climate change: slow progress on emissions, greenwashing the fleet, and lobbying against progress. Thereby Greenpeace points at the contradictory messages in sustainability communications by Volkswagen on product and corporate levels: On the one hand the multinational company aims to be the most eco-friendly automaker in the world (Volkswagen Sustainability Report 2010), on the other hand Volkswagen does not roll out its best available technologies across the entire fleet, and it lobbies against stricter environmental rules.
Since the launch of the campaign more than 220,000 Jedis have already joined the rebellion (staus: July 15, 2011). Once registered the new Jedis receive their training. They get their own vwdarkside-website to invite others friends and interact with others. The higher the number of followers and interactions the more points the fresh Jedis get. With maximum points the master Jedis receive a special T-shirt from Greenpeace.
To conclude: Based on Star Wars episodes and the recent, popular Volkswagen commercial “The Force” Greenpeace launched a clever, interactive social marketing campaign in summer 2011. The “Rebel Manifesto” and its demands are widely discussed in the internet – even among Volkswagen customers. Greenpeace points at the contradictory messages in sustainability product and corporate communications by Volkswagen, especially regarding fuel efficiency and climate change. How will Volkswagen react? Is the company capable to turn to “the good side”, as requested by Greenpeace and its followers?