Insights Serra Balls

Monkey business

This week: Volkswagen’s response to emissions testing on monkeys, the BBC, Teresa May and The Darkest Hour

Replaying corporate responses and injecting a more human approach


Volkswagen took three goes to get it right this week following revelations in the New York Times that the car maker had sponsored diesel emissions testing on monkeys through a European industry body called EUGT.  Despite the good work the company has carried out internally and externally to address the scandal through its new risk management systems and code of conduct, its initial reaction was to issue a statement that VW was in the process of investigating the industry body’s work and then on Twitter to order the story away by saying that it: ‘explicitly distances itself from all forms of animal cruelty’.

Take 2: Their second attempt at least managed to adopt the first person and include an apology: ‘We are conscious of our social and corporate responsibilities and are taking the criticism regarding the study very seriously. We know that the scientific methods used by EUGT were wrong and apologise sincerely for this.’

Consciousness arguably sets the bar fairly low when it comes to demonstrating humanity and taking the criticism seriously sounds very like an apology for the fact that some people were offended by your actions, rather than engaging with the actions themselves.

Take 3: with their third strike however, VW finally landed it with a lift from comments made by their CEO’s interview on German channel N-TV: “The methods practiced by EUGT were totally wrong. All this shows me yet again that we have to take ethical questions more seriously and sensitively. In our company and as an industry. There are things you just do not do.”  This addressed the issue directly, it was personal and human.

Who made an emotional connection this week?

As PWC issued a report into BBC pay structures Carrie Gracie gave an impassioned Parliamentary select committee appearance, saying she would “never have gone to China on the terms that were given to her had she been aware of the pay of her fellow senior editors”; and that she noted the gratitude of the BBC towards the male editors taking a pay cut, but she would have been happy with them saying thanks to her and her female colleagues for working for unequal pay for so long.  The BBC have done a fair job in addressing the pay concerns of the female staff, arguably better than many companies in the private sector, and Gracie’s appeal was a demonstration of how difficult it is to respond as an organisation to such a direct, emotive campaign.


There’s so much to write about the woes of Teresa May but what caught our eye this week, was that she said that her problems stemmed from the fact that she needed to “communicate better”. We thought – that old chestnut. How many times have we heard that if only an organisation could communicate better, if the ‘spin’ was more effective their woes would be over?  But then again, it got us thinking about the stupendous, Gary Oldman, playing the most emotionally charged speaker of them all, Winston Churchill in The Darkest Hour, which is out this week.  A succession of brilliant speeches in which he ‘mobilizes the English language and sends it into battle’ made us reflect that actually, a truly inspiring orator can lead us to greatness…