Blah style stalls VW's Passat spot

By Published on .

Marketer: Volkswagen of America
Agency: Arnold Communications, Boston
Rating: One and a half stars

There are some things about us, the Ad Review staff, you should know:

1) We are even kinder and more charming in person than we are in print.

2) We have adult-onset asthma, which interferes with our stubborn desire to feed our red blood cells pretty much 24 hours a day. (Selfish? Yes, but, let's face it: genius is 1% inspiration and 99% respiration.)

3) We would trade our mother's right kidney for a New VW Passat GLX.

This is nothing against our mom, whom we love. But the GLX has 190 horsepower, and how many kidneys does one person really need?

What really ticks us off is that the staff will be acquiring a new vehicle Dec. 1, and we were all prepared to get the V6 Passat, and the car is a total bargain, but then we came face to face with our eldest daughter's unfunded college-tuition liability and the continuing horror of our mother's callous and premeditated disposal of our baseball-card collection, which, had it been left intact would be worth . . . well, no damn wonder we can't freakin' breathe.

The point is that we are so bursting with frustration, resentment and oxygen deprivation that you must read our evaluation of the new Passat spot from Arnold Communications, Boston, in the appropriate context--i.e., the context of unconcealed anger and malignant bitterness.


Now then: what a terrible commercial.

Yes, it seems the brilliant Arnold team that has won the past two Ad Age Best best-of-show awards, is very good at advertising Golfs and Jettas and New Beetles, but completely at a loss when it comes to VW's flagship model.

The problems began with the launch of the redesigned Passat in December 1997, when Arnold opted for a touchy-feely series of vignettes. "They communicate none of the car's appeal," a shrewd commentator observed at the time, while unencumbered by the breathing difficulties that would haunt his 44th year. "The Passat is the best VW ever, a handsome, quiet, roomy, safe, powerful sedan that handles like a sports car--and compares favorably to many imports costing $10,000 more . . .

"It's nice to connect with the target audience," we wrote. "But this would have been a great time to just present the goods."

So now, a year and a half later, after some interim stumbling, the agency has indeed produced a spot dramatizing the very appealing product attributes we found so oddly absent from the first pitch. The elaborate--as in "over-produced"--spot is a Hollywood-style, action-adventure chase sequence. A felon is escaping on a motorcycle. Cops commandeer a Passat. Strap yourself in for thrills and spills galore.

It's supposed to be exciting, but it isn't at all, because it looks exactly like every other chase you've ever seen and therefore evaporates before your glazed-over eyes. And it's supposed to be comical, as the Joe Blow car owner warms to the role of stunt driving. But the joke, such that it is, is drowned out by the visual din.

What it is, basically, is generic chase footage that says nothing about the car because it could just as easily have been filmed with a crappy Hyundai such as the Ad Review staff will probably be driving come December because our mother, Miss Nephro-Redundancy herself, ruined our life.

Because we are so kind and compassionate, we feel real pain for Arnold and VW. Such feeble efforts on behalf of this wonderful car simply make us gasp.

Although, maybe we just need another puff from our inhaler.

Copyright July 1999, Crain Communications Inc.

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