Online dating has gone from a punchline akin to mail-order marriage to an accepted and widely used mode of social interaction in a relatively short time. Of course, challenges do still exist. The most obvious being false advertising—the reason he posted a picture from 10 years ago is because he had hair and a six-pack then, not a comb-over and pleated khakis.
The new VW.com, created by Deutsch LA, takes the technology behind online dating and applies it to finding a car. The great part about that is there's no reason to lie about how much a car weighs. The site uses matchmaking functionality to help shoppers find their VW based on whatever criteria they’re interested in—a specific model, certain features, favorite color, or price. Then it pairs them with new or used Volkswagen cars in their area. Each car has its own profile page with images, features, specs, and a payment estimator. There are more than 80,000 unique profile pages, and more than 10 million possible configured images.
According to Deutsch LA's chief digital officer Winston Binch, there were three insights that led to the brand's re-examination of its online offering. First, 77 percent of VW.com users were using the site primarily to shop, while only 2 percent were coming to look at ads. Second, JD Power reported that 80 percent of car shoppers spend time on third-party car sites like Cars.com to get transparent inventory and pricing information. And third, most online car-configuration sites can help you build a car and assemble options you like, but it's very difficult to actually get that car. "The U.S. car market is mostly stock based, so when you configure a car online and you go to the dealer, many times it’s tough to actually get that car and they’ll point you towards something else," says Binch. "We felt that was a real shopping problem and an opportunity for us to improve that experience with a more direct and transparent way to get the car you want."
To deliver that experience, the brand wanted to take a page from the smooth customer experiences delivered by agile startups. "Traditional auto websites are really like glorified brochures—a lot of pretty imagery, some high-level specs, and a ‘go take a test-drive!’ type message," says Paige Parrent, VW marketing's digital platforms manager. "But the consumer has an expectation of here and now. They’re not interested in waiting. We see this in the success of brands like Tesla and Uber, that utility-based websites are giving people the gift of time. So what we’re trying to do is make the shopping process as easy as possible."
OK, but how is finding a car like trying to get a date? Binch says the team was surprised at the parallels between car-shopping and finding that special someone. "They're both highly stressful, rational decisions that are also very emotional," says Binch. "People love the VW brand, but we need to grow awareness about our models. We want people to fall in love with our cars as much as our brand. So the word love came up a lot and matchmaking became the perfect metaphor for what we were trying to do."
The site, now for tablet and desktop, was developed at the agency over the last year. The team looked at Tinder and Match.com for design guidance. then took real VW inventory data and applied filters to it. "We didn’t just want to make it functional, but a fun, easy-to-use, engaging process," says Binch. "The idea is you don’t need to know anything about our products to find what you want."
And the good news is, after you find a car you like, if you change your mind when you meet it in-person, you don't have to pretend to go to the bathroom to awkwardly ditch your date.