Volkswagen’s newest ad pays very little attention to pitching its vehicles. Instead, the brand is selling environmentalism, acts of kindness and other ideals, even making a subtle suggestion that too many cars are a bad thing, leading to clogged highways.
The spot marks the beginning of VW’s “Drive Something Bigger than Yourself” campaign by Johannes Leonardo that will debut on TV today during the during Fox’s coverage of the Women’s World Cup game pitting the U.S. team against Thailand.
The automaker set the stage for the highly idealistic campaign with an attention-grabbing spot that debuted last week featuring the Simon & Garfunkel classic “The Sound of Silence.” That ad, called “Hello Light,” attempts to spin VW’s four-year-old diesel emissions scandal into the impetus for the automaker’s aggressive move into electric vehicles.
One of the new ads, called “Something Big” juxtaposes scenes described as “big” with those called “bigger.” It includes an overhead view of a maze of crisscrossing highways that are called “big.” Then comes a simple scene of a person pedaling a bike, described as “bigger.”
No, VW is not giving up its car business to sell bikes. Instead, the marketer is getting introspective as it pivots to a new brand point of view pushing values it says it is supporting company-wide.
“In a time where the world has long catered to self-interest, we will invite people to see a more progressive path,” Jim Zabel, VW of America senior VP of marketing, said in a statement. “It’s a point of view we’re dedicated to as we look to the future and it’s a belief we can champion as we evolve our values in classic Volkswagen style: with humility, humanity, and humor.”
Asked to explain the highway-bike contrast scene, he said: “I think it is interesting POV from a car company to say we are part of the congestion problem on our highways and roads. And at the same time offer a powerful point of view that you don’t have to drive every day to be a Volkswagen driver.”
Other scenes have nothing at all to do with driving or cars. For instance, after a waterfall is described as “big,” an image showing a person turning off a faucet is described as “bigger”–an apparent nod to water conservation. Another scene juxtaposes an arm lifting a dumbbell–”big”–with a man helping a mother carry her baby stroller down a long flight of stairs– “bigger.”
“We want to return Volkswagen to its counter-culture status,” says Leo Premutico, co-founder and co-chief creative officer at Johannes Leonardo. “In the 60s they tapped into an emerging mindset and pushed against mindless materialism. In the 90s it was the corporate rat race. Now, in this third chapter, it’s time to get behind those driven by values rather than status.”
The first VW vehicle does not appear in the one-minute ad until around the 40-second mark, when footage is shown of the planned I.D. Buzz, an electric version of the Microbus. But the scene hardly represents a hard sell, considering the model is not set to arrive at dealers until 2022.
A second spot includes a current model–the VW Atlas SUV. But most of the ad shows soccer, juxtaposing scenes of U.S. women’s team star Alex Morgan with a young girl playing the sport after being taken to the field in an Atlas driven by her dad. The spot ends by stating, “when you pave the way for the next generation, you change the destination.”
VW is backing the new campaign with corporate philanthropic efforts and environmental pledges. For instance, the brand plans to fund programs to nurture more female soccer coaches in the U.S. On the environmental front, VW has pledged to become carbon neutral by 2050; plans include making a 30 percent reduction in emissions in its fleet by 2025.
Last week’s “Hello Light” spot, which will get a limited run ending June 19, was aimed at laying the groundwork for the new campaign, which comes four years after VW admitted to installing “defeat devices” on diesel cars in a move to evade emissions testing. “Without mentioning the past...we would never have the credibility or authenticity to move forward with the brand,” Zabel said in an interview last week describing the ad, which includes a flashback of news reports of the 2015 scandal, which tarnished VW’s environmental image.
The new marketing push is not all about high ideals. VW is expected to soon begin incorporating more product-focused ads into the campaign.