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Volkswagen uses TN taxpayer money to push cars in the outer limits

By   /   August 27, 2013  /   Comments Off

By Chris Butler | Tennessee Watchdog

CHATTANOOGA — In all seriousness, how high do you have to be to believe that painting an advertisement on a roof in Tennessee will generate lots of new customers for your business?

Better yet, exactly how high were you when you realized Tennessee taxpayers should pay for an advertisement?

Were you 10,000 feet high, or perhaps flying as high as 30,000 feet?

Well, as of this week, you don’t need to be in an airplane or hot-air balloon or any other flying machine to see Volkswagen’s latest ad. All you have to do is click onto Google Earth, and you literally can  see the message from outer space.

BIRD’S EYE: Taxpayers helped fund this advertisement for astronauts.

BIRD’S EYE: Taxpayers helped fund this advertisement for astronauts.

In what proved a successful attempt to lure VW to Tennessee, state officials offered the company $2 million in taxpayer cash to use for marketing and public relations, according to the Chattanooga Times Free PressCompany officials took $266,000 of that money and painted the sign on its roof, which simply says “Volkswagen Chattanooga.”

Tennessee Watchdog left numerous phone messages seeking comment from Chattanooga VW spokesmen, including Guenther Scherelis, general manager of communication for Volkswagen Group of America.

In an e-mail exchange, however, Scherelis questioned the validity of Tennessee Watchdog as a legitimate news organization.

“Please identify yourself and your ‘media,’” Scherelis wrote, with “media” in quotation marks.

We referred Scherelis to our website and extended the opportunity, once again, to offer him to give his perspective on the sign.

Scherelis had not responded to that e-mail as of Tuesday.

Specifically, Tennessee Watchdog wanted to ask two questions. Would VW officials pay for roof-top advertising without the help of Tennessee taxpayers, and if the roof-top billboard isn’t trying to grab the attention of extraterrestrials then who, exactly, is it trying to attract?

When the plan was first announced last year, VW officials proudly said that the taxpayer-subsidized sign would serve as a great marketing tool for people who use Google Earth software  as well as people who fly in and out of the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport.

The Chattanooga airport has 595 passengers a day, according to the 2012 Pork Report produced by the Beacon Center of Tennessee, a nonprofit think tank.

Scherelis said the sign “makes it clear that VW is at home in America,” the Time Free Press reported at the time.

“If 600 people in airplanes are not sufficient, there are 600 million more who will be able to watch on Google Earth,” Scherelis said in an interview with the Times Free Press.

Todd Droz, the head of Droz Creative, a Knoxville-based advertising agency, called VW’s campaign an example of innovative advertising.

“The customer, though, is not going to seek out your advertisement unless it’s on something that is entertaining.”

Contact Christopher Butler at chris@tennesseewatchdog.org

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