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What makes Volkswagen a challenger brand in Malaysia?

By Kiron Kesav, General manager for strategy and platform

January 29, 2020 | 6 min read

Volkswagen has managed to carve out space for itself in the cluttered automotive category in Malaysia. By consistently challenging the category norms and upholding an attitude and corresponding behaviors that are distinctly its own, Volkswagen has managed to create an alternative aspirational space of their own. And that is what makes them an Enlightened Zagger.


Volkswagen has fearlessly challenged the dominance of the market leaders and, in partnership with PHD Media.

Enlightened Zagger is one of the 10 challenger types that PHD Media and eatbigfish have identified by drawing on the insights and experiences of today’s challengers disrupting the status quo, presented in their thought leadership publication, Overthrow II – 10 strategies from the new wave of challengers. The book features some of the most interesting examples from the new wave of challenger brands across the globe, like Oatly, BrewDog, Copa90, Tony’s Chocolonely, Mailchimp and Xiaomi. The book looks at their respective stories and how their unique strategies place them under different challenger types such as Real and Human, Local Hero, Next Generation, Dramatic Disruptor and Feisty Underdog, among others.

Enlightened Zagger brands unabashedly challenge existing norms and trends. They are unafraid to create a distinct stance compared to the rest of the category and amplify the differences in everything they do – something that Volkswagen has showcased time and again in Malaysia.

Volkswagen has fearlessly challenged the dominance of the market leaders and, in partnership with PHD Media, has consistently ventured into marketing and communication territories previously left untouched by other auto brands in Malaysia, leading to a slew of market-first and category-first initiatives.

It took ingenuity and courage for an auto brand to ride the eCommerce wave in Malaysia and become part of Lazada’s tentpole sale event, 12.12. When the first VW Beetle was sold during the sale in 2017, it was the first car ever to be sold on an e-commerce platform in Malaysia. The campaign was a hit, with 12 Beetles sold on Lazada within 20 minutes. It was only natural to repeat the exercise the following year but to take it to a new level with a live telecast sale on TV in partnership with Lazada. And for this year’s 12.12, Volkswagen went a step further still, by becoming one of the first auto brands in APAC to set up shop on Instagram. They created an exclusive temporary online store in partnership with Shopify on Instagram for only 24 hours, to sell 12 VW Beetles and 12 VW Polos with special deals.

"Pushing boundaries has always been in our DNA. It started with the ‘Think Small’ campaign, which continues to be an inspiration to the Volkswagen team, including PHD. We will constantly push to challenge the status quo, not as underdogs but as trailblazers," said Isabela Pascu, the head of marketing at VW Malaysia.

That Volkswagen dares to be bold was also amply displayed during the ‘Mission Hijack’ campaign. Volkswagen partnered with the three biggest automotive publishers in the market, Mudah, Carlist and Carbase to ‘hijack’ the key research moments of car purchase intenders, blending data intelligence with creativity to deliver organically tailored communications to the visitors of these partner sites.

Volkswagen has even managed to reinvent the auto category’s standard advertising use of Facebook and YouTube. Volkswagen was the first auto brand in Malaysia to use dynamic ads on Facebook to retarget purchase intenders, automatically customizing each ad to display the exact model a person had shown interest in. The constant endeavour to push the boundaries of Facebook advertising has led to Facebook itself rating VW Malaysia as the most inventive of all Volkswagen markets in the world.

At a time when the potential of video advertising was being limited only to storytelling, VW became one of the first auto brands to use YouTube for Action, using the platform to story-tell and generate leads in one go.

When Google launched the much-awaited search gallery ads earlier this year, VW was the first auto brand in the country to be a part of the initiative. The fact that VW was part of an exclusive list of advertisers in Malaysia who were whitelisted to use gallery ads is a testament to Volkswagen’s openness and confidence to pursue the unconventional.

“At PHD, we are vigilant about developing opportunities to make leaps in creativity and innovation, to provide industry-first and industry-leading ideas, which deliver better results for Volkswagen Malaysia together with our partners. This resulted in consistently being the first in the category to use innovative solutions in our campaigns," said Daler Kendzhaev, business director at PHD Malaysia.

Volkswagen’s Enlightened Zagger spirit has also garnered ample recognition from the industry. Earlier this year, Volkswagen garnered five awards during Dragons of Malaysia 2018 for the Lazada initiative and ‘Mission Hijack’ campaign, which speaks for the effectiveness of these bold ideas.

The exciting challenger story of Volkswagen in Malaysia is going to continue, with a fresh set of ideas and initiatives that will be rolling out soon.

Kiron Kesav is the general manager of strategy and platforms at PHD Malaysia

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