BOB GARFIELD'S AD REVIEW: BEETLE WOULD CRUISE EVEN WITHOUT FINE ADS

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A few years back, a very smart guy named Randall Rothenberg wrote a very interesting book leading to a very ridiculous conclusion: that even the most venerated advertising is largely irrelevant, because sales are overwhelmingly determined by the convergence of product attributes and marketplace conditions.

Even the legendary Volkswagen campaign from Doyle Dane Bernbach gets too much credit, he asserted, because VW was a phenomenon not of "Think Small," et al., but of the right utilitarian car at the right moment in time.

Well, good news, Randall. Five years after "Where the Suckers Moon," you are finally right.

The advertising introducing the New Beetle, from Arnold Communications, Boston, is bright, clever, eye-catching, product-centered and respectful of its Bernbachian roots. It is also very nearly beside the point -- because this car is the right product at the right moment and it couldn't miss if VW aired the best of Brioschi.

For starters, the car is a 115-hp ad for itself, an extraordinarily intriguing synthesis of new and old. Like the Mazda Miata roadster, the New Beetle intentionally bestrides two eras, with styling that contemporizes its odd, rear-engined ancestor, and innards with the impressive handling and zip of the modern Golf.

The New Beetle is about such dualities. Simultaneously rounded and sleek, futuristic and retro, homely and beautiful, baby cute and sexy cute, it is a driver's car in the recent VW tradition, yet -- even more than its lumbering galosh of a forebear -- preternaturally adorable.

Really adorable. Charmingly, irresistibly, almost impossibly adorable. Next to this thing, the Love Bug is a herpes sore.

That's why VW needn't be concerned that the compact body won't accommodate the bloated baby boomers most vulnerable to its nostalgic appeal. Everybody will love the New Beetle.

Boomers. Teen-agers. Amish. Everybody. For one thing, this vehicle will instantaneously replace the VW Cabrio as the Official Car of Courtney. And Jennifer, and Brittani, and Caitlin and every other 22-year-old, like, blonde. They won't appreciate the miracle of a working defroster, but their devotion will be unending nonetheless. They will buy it, cherish it (and, in all probability, pierce it).

OK, now then, about those irrelevant ads: excellent.

All seven TV spots pay homage to the brand's advertising heritage -- not its TV heritage, but rather the white backgrounds and familiar sans serif typeface from the DDB print campaigns of the '60s. And, as in the days of the Creative Revolution, the spots exude a droll, product as anti-hero irreverence.

In one, we see a fuzzy, stylized daisy twirling at us, until the image sharpens and we realize it is seven yellow New Beetles. The copy, alluding to the '60s counterculture embrace of the VW as an un-status symbol: "Less flower. More power."

Another announces, "The engine's in the front. But its heart's in the same place."

Each of the spots not only features the car at center stage, but lets it slowly rotate, allowing the viewer to fall in love from every angle. What's missing is evidence that mechanically, the New Beetle has nothing to do with its iconoclastic progenitor. No matter. Ardor alone will lure people into the showroom. The technical bona fides -- and reasonable price -- will simply close the sale.

Therefore, in accordance with the otherwise silly Rothenberg Theory, this advertising merely facilitates the inevitable. Unless, of course, this new car is a . . . lemon.

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