Volkswagen and Crispin Porter Thumb Noses at Accident-Ad Critics

New Spot Featuring Reference to Old Spot Again Ends in Car Wreck

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Well, we sure saw that coming.

No, literally. We saw it coming. Just before the two women get broadsided in the new Crispin Porter & Bogusky spot for the VW Passat, we saw the other vehicle. For one second it was in the previous shot, looking fairly benign, but it was clearly headed right for them.

Plus, duh, you'd have to say the collision was somewhat foreshadowed in the dialogue.

PASSENGER: So they're just driving along talking about whatever and suddenly ... wham.

DRIVER: I know. I saw it.

PASSENGER: I just think maybe they went too far.

DRIVER: I think where they went was "real."

PASSENGER: It was just shocking for the sake of shocking.

DRIVER: Look, you think being in an accident is not a shock? That's why they call it an accident.

PASSENGER: Yeah, but you're watching TV and a commercial comes on ...

Preordained wreck
That's when the SUV slams into them -- which you'd have to be oblivious not to have anticipated, even if you somehow missed the glimpse of the sports ute. In fact, never mind "foreshadowed." This wreck was preordained.

And yet, as the lady says, it's still shocking -- because the collision shot repeats exactly the effect of the commercial the women are discussing: the horrifying suddenness of a real accident ... in an instant. TV usually employs the long, exterior view. Here it's a tight, helpless interior: screeching tires and then that sickening, strangely muted thump-crunch. Then maybe you're dead. Or maybe, if you're as lucky as these women, your car is equipped with side-curtain airbags and you climb out, shaken, to wait for the cops.

Thumbing their noses
So, yeah, that was all telegraphed. What we didn't see coming was a client and agency thumbing their noses at legitimate criticism of their previous VW spot, which also portrayed a sudden wreck with upsetting verisimilitude.

Hard to know exactly what Crispin and VW were up to here. You could look at the title of the ad, "Critique," and conclude they're just being peevish. After all, every segment producer of every morning show in America felt compelled to explore the pros and cons of the previous spot, and they all trotted out a critic accusing VW of gratuitously traumatizing viewers. It would be understandable, albeit a bit adolescent, if Crispin were to retort by giving its critics a second dose.

(Just for the record, we had no problem with the first spot, per se. We do believe, though, that it's the height of hypocrisy to promote safety and speed, as VW does, simultaneously. That's just cynical.)

Embarassing possibility
Another embarrassing possibility is that they're all just taken with themselves. Self-reference, after all, does often suggest self-reverence. But in advertising that's usually the stuff of local TV proprietor-pitchmen megalomaniacs and trade columnists who imagine the world is hanging on their every shouted word.

But let's not be too cynical ourselves. Ultimately we're inclined to think that all involved here are simply being pedagogical -- as in, "Listen, we're serious about this. We think it's worth dramatizing what modern safety features can mean in a life-or-death situation, so we're going to do it again. Question our motives all you want. But think about what's at stake."

In which case the trope of victimizing a critic of the previous VW ad wouldn't be merely a cheap, retaliatory stunt but a sober note of caution. For those of us in the criticism industry, the note is sobering indeed. We who reside in the theoretical world of the second guess, once we strap ourselves into tangible reality, are but a fatal instant away.

Whoa. We didn't see that coming.

~ ~ ~
Review: 3 stars
Title: "Critique"
Brand: VW Passat
Agency: Crispin Porter & Bogusky, Miami
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