It was the whimsical early-'90s campaign from Omnicom's DDB, New York, designed to establish VW's German-engineering bona fides without seeming too severely Teutonic. It meant, basically, "The joy of motoring" -- which was not a stupid positioning for VW's zippy little cars. But the silly tone made consumers hear the message as "Don't take us seriously."
No wonder. "Fahrvergnugen" was the linguistic equivalent of a drunk in lederhosen.
The Volkswagen experience
The client's reaction, of course, was very far from vergnugen. After three decades, Volkswagen of America fired DDB. Together they had forged the Creative Revolution, but sentiment is no substitute for trust. It was one thing for VW to lose market share, another thing altogether to lose its dignity.
Now then: Meet Dr. Z.
He visits us, courtesy of Omnicom's BBDO, Detroit, to promote Chrysler Motors and its latest ruinous sales incentives. Dr. Z happens to be real -- he is Dieter Zetsche, chairman of DaimlerChrysler -- but that's a technicality. In both his live-action (TV) and animated (web) versions, he's a cartoon -- a whimsical character trying to establish Chrysler's German-engineering bona fides.
In one spot, for instance, he replies to a letter from a Chrysler owner named John by dragging a jack up to the guy's home to get underneath his new Chrysler 300.
"John, every Chrysler uses the best of German and American engineering and design. This five-link rear suspension is only one example. That's more links for better performance and handling."
"Cool," John says.
"What would you expect?" Dr. Z retorts, dumping John's entire rear axle on his lawn. "We invented the automobile."
Hey, look at Dr. Z's funny walrus moustache! Ha ha!
Hey, listen to his thick accent! Ha ha ha!
Hey, he vandalized that man's automobile! Ha ha ha ha!
And if you think that's zany, in another commercial Dr. Z claims zat zeh Cheep brand ist environmentally freundlich!!!!! Zat ist a gut vun, nein???!!!
Nein. Zat ist a bad vun. The whole campaign is a bad vun.
Loss on every transaction
Not because the promotion won't move cars. All of these Big Three giveaways move cars. GM, Ford and Chrysler seem to believe that you can take a loss on every transaction and make it up in volume. They are junkies hocking everything they own to get to the next fix.
Nor is the campaign bad because the point isn't clear; it is impossible to watch these spots or click online and not note the claim that Chrysler is the beneficiary of Daimler -- i.e., Mercedes -- engineering. Registering, however, is not the same as crediting. Talk all you want about a five-link rear suspension. A cheesy commercial still screams "CHEESY."
Nor is the problem that Dr. Z is a boardroom stiff. On the contrary, he's an engaging guy with a big personality. Too big, actually. He'd be far more compelling cut down to size, plainly explaining the techno-overlap between Mercedes and Chrysler instead of freaking out random customers in their driveways. There is something eerie about German doctors performing bizarre experiments on healthy 300s.
Not your poster child for trust
BBDO's formula is clear: a little Lee Iacocca, a little Bob Lutz (the blogging GM chairman) and a lot of fahrvergnugen. But this is not your fatherland's Chrysler, and Dr. Z -- at least as presented here -- is not your poster child for trust.
Hey, don't take our word. If you want to know how well human cartoon characters work, fahr yourself back to 1997 and call Nissan or Omnicom's TBWA/Chiat/Day.
Then ask Mr. K.
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Review: one star