And they've taken the idea right out of Mel Brooks' playbook. You know what I'm talking about -- in his smash-hit musical "The Producers" Max Bialystock is a washed-up Broadway producer trying to figure out how to make surefire money in the theater, and his bookkeeper, Leo Bloom, comes up with the ultimate scam -- produce a show so awful that they make a killing because the backers don't expect to get their money back.
This is truly a Big Idea -- make money by being bad, really bad. VW's new campaign accomplishes this feat at a propitious time for the beleaguered company. The top labor rep on its supervisory board has blamed the company's troubles on "mistakes by management" that have followed "the wrong model strategy," according to The Wall Street Journal. VW expects to lose money in the U.S. again this year.
VW has already started its retreat by pulling its high-priced Phaeton off the U.S. market. The Crispin Porter ads are so horrendously awful that they smooth the way for a quick and complete withdrawal, saving the company a ton of money.
Bob Garfield has already rebuked the agency's first effort for VW, saying that its emphasis on speed was not responsible. "Make friends with your fast" is the slogan, which Bob said will no doubt appeal to "the beer-pong demographic" -- the only segment Crispin Porter knows how to reach. "In terms of brand building and overall sales, this exercise is just a devil's pact with VW's slow."
The second round of ads is as bad as it can possibly get -- unless they're trying to be bad.
The premise is to "unpimp" your dowdy car by blowing it up and replacing it with a jazzy VW GTI (given the job of providing a "halo" effect for the whole line).
Three archetype German engineers mock the shortcomings of a poor schlub's pimpmobile. Sample dialogue, as closely as I could understand what was going on:
An engineer says, "Listen up. VW in the house. Jason (points to Jason) ... this is your '98 whatchamacallit." A blonde woman, also in a white coat, picks an "F" off the back car window, which now reads "The Lame" and puts the "F" on Jason, saying, "You got an F." Engineer: "You know what we're going to do now?" Jason: "No." Engineer: "Unpimp your ride" (pushes button and a huge box drops down and smashes Jason's car. The sides of the box drop to reveal a GTI.) And the engineer, in his best Teutonic demeanor, says: "We just dropped it like it's hot. Vee dub. Representing Deutschland."
Crispin Porter has been accused of planting some phony e-mails to generate favorable word of mouth about its clients, and I get the feeling they're at it again with the VW ads. One e-mailer to "Leftlane News" says, "These commercials have given me some interest in the new GTI where I had previously no interest." Another said: "I really want this car. I'm willing to throw away every practical reason for making my decision to justify purchasing one." Give me a break.
A few ponder the spots a little more deeply: "I'm trying to figure out who the German engineer is in those commercials. I think he's been a villain/thug/psycho in lots of British movies." To me he comes off as a Gay Gestapo, not that there's anything wrong with that.
In a previous column I asked if Crispin Porter has what it takes to develop a strong selling idea that cuts across all demographics.
Well, we now see it's got the villain/thug/psycho segment locked up, but that's all part of the plan for leave-the-country baddom.