120 Shorts Used in Passat Campaign

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DETROIT (AdAge.com) -- In what is believed to be the largest use of online short films ever in a single branded entertainment effort, Volkswagen has produced 120 for its new Passat campaign.
The Passat campaign of 120 short films is the swan song for Arnold Worldwide of Boston, which lost the advertising account to Crispin Porter & Bogusky of Miami.

The German automaker is rolling out the films on its Web site. Each short demonstrates, in a quirky way, a single feature on the redone 2006 Passat. The effort is believed to be the largest number of online short videos ever used for a single campaign, and the Web site page (www.vw.com/passat) is as much an engaging cyber game board as it is an advertisement.

Each of the so-called Feature Films is just 15 seconds long, most with no voice-overs. The actual car feature is revealed in the final seconds.

Funny executions
Among the executions: A dinosaur roars at animated plastic cavemen to illustrate Passat's 10-speaker audio system. Geeky men in space-age hats made of tinfoil circle a hanging orb for the vehicle's satellite radio options. Talking inner-seat parts form a support group and sit in circle for the 12-way adjustable power seats. And for the side curtain airbags, a man wearing an unusually large Afro wig isn’t phased by a baseball that breaks through his window and hits his head.

VW took a different route from BMW of North America, which hired big-name feature-film directors for its online series, "The Hire," which ended Oct. 21 after a four-and-a-half-year run. VW “tried to use up-and-coming folks, rather than big names” and mostly up-and-coming production houses to create the films, said Todd Riley, new media and interactive marketing manager at VW.

The idea was hatched by Havas’ Arnold Worldwide, Boston, which also handles VW’s online account, said Alan Pafenbach, the agency's managing partner and group creative director. The team includes creative directors Dave Weist and Colin Jeffrey and Phil Sqier, senior art director.

Hundreds of creative people
“We went out and contacted four or five different production companies that are sort of known for doing interesting videos and films,” Mr. Pafenbach said. “We harnessed hundreds of creative people” from the various production houses.

One of the most visually striking films stars a dinosaur and promotes Passat's 10-speaker sound system.

Arnold wrote briefs about each of the Passat’s 120 features and what they did and divvied them up to Curious Pictures, New York; Tomato, New York; Brickyard Effects, Boston; Brazil’s Lobo; and Lifelong Friendship Society, London.

“Most we pretty much took as they are,” Mr. Pafenbach said. “A few we tweaked, a few we sent back.”

Arnold didn’t want the films to look too similar. Some are live action, others animated or computer-generated.

“There’s not a lot of repeated techniques,” Mr. Pafenbach said.

Getting consumers involved
Before the multimedia launch of the Passat, which arrived in September, the automaker pondered how to get consumers interested in the car’s features, said Tesa Aragones, director-new media at VW. The films allow people to “learn about the product and brand and have fun doing it.”

The films, she said, “are bringing the campaign to life.” The first 25 went live earlier this month; the second batch of 25 is planned for next week. VW will add a viral option on vw.com next month to allow visitors to pass along the films to friends.

The automaker has an online ad buy through late November on portals, lifestyle and third-party auto sites to drive consumers to the films on vw.com, Ms. Aragones said. The Passat blitz is the brand’s biggest online launch. The URL is also listed in all offline Passat ads.

The amount of time consumers spend on the film-viewing part of the site is twice the amount spent elsewhere on vw.com, said Mr. Riley.

A million visitors in August
Traffic to vw.com in August hit a record of more than 1 million visitors for the first time in a year, and slipped slightly in September to 940,000, said comScore Media Metrix, which didn’t have data for just the film area.

VW spent $131 million in the first half of 2005 compared to $152 million for the first half of 2004, according to TNS Media Intelligence. VW has experienced lower sales due to a move upmarket in the past few years, although it launched updates of core models this spring, starting with the Jetta. VW said it sold 162,986 vehicles in the U.S. through September vs. 196,530 for the first nine months of 2004.

The “Feature Films” project is part of the swan song for Arnold, which will end its decade-long hold on the Volkswagen account in early December. VW moved its account last month without a review to MDC Partners' Crispin Porter & Bogusky, Miami. Under Arnold, Volkswagen had been one of the most progressive marketers to use entertainment on the Internet, launching online music service radiovw.com that ended late last year, and producing the 15-minute film The Check Up, featuring the company’s redesigned Jetta, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January.

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