Yes, the Ad Review staff (average age: 40) drives a Volkswagen Passat, which until last week was an affordable, German-engineered sports sedan, but which now suddenly is the Official Performance Car of Generation X.
We certainly don't want to look like one of those people who act younger than they are, so out goes the VW-just like our hightop basketball shoes and our formerly unique habit of wearing our ball caps brim backwards.
In other words, the backlash has already begun from the Arnold Fortuna Lawner & Cabot debut on the Volkswagen of America account. The campaign tag of "Drivers wanted" could just as easily be "Drivers aged 17 to 30 wanted."
"Today's modern man is safe, insulated from the elements," a twentysomething businessman, clearly on the bottom rung of the executive ladder, declaims to begin the 60-second anthem spot. "We have climate control, home shopping, 500 channels. We can surf the 'net. We even have cars that are so smooth and quiet, you don't even know you're driving."
Unless you do what the 19 other people in the ad do, which is a) drive a Volkswagen, and b) be under 25 years old.
Not since Burger King's ill-fated, teen-oriented BK TeeVee campaign has a major advertiser so dramatically narrowed its target audience. But this gamble may pay off-because the backlash may not be so big after all. Instead of spinning their wheels trying to sell affordable German engineering to those who can afford unaffordable German engineering, Arnold Fortuna has chosen to concentrate on the niche that actually buys VWs.
As you know, by act of Congress, all Cabriolets are driven by 21-year-old women named Jenni. Golfs are starter cars. Jettas are skewed to young marrieds. Notwithstanding the apparent anomaly of the Ad Review staff, Passats apparently skew young, as well.
In many ways, VW is doing what Subaru did at the end of its fitful tenure with Wieden & Kennedy, albeit this time with less pandering self-consciousness. (Remember the grungy little creep who tried to explain why Subarus are like punk rock, which, of course, they aren't?)
Unlike current campaigns for products as diverse as Bold detergent and the American Red Cross, this work doesn't address Xers by reiterating their all-too-well-documented resentments. The ads peddle Volkswagens, not sulkswagens.
Nor is this campaign "This is not your father's VW." Apart from style and imagery, its themes are ones VW has employed for years: the liberating, visceral pleasures of the Euro-car experience, vs. the dull, insulated dependability of Ford and Toyota. Indeed, "Drivers wanted" articulates the concept better than anything VW has said for more than a decade. As the onscreen title says: "Technology that invigorates, never isolates."
Sort of farout!vergnugen.
The MTV-like quick cuts, severe angles and (we hope) intentionally uneven lighting could easily have been scaled back a bit-if not to impress older drivers at least to look a little less pitifully desperate to the target audience. And the music is too club-sceney to bear.
But overall, and in spite of the obvious risks, the substance and message of the advertising well serve the strategy of ignoring the 100 million people who for their entire adult lives have ignored VW.
Volkswagen, you might say, is not afraid to think small.
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