A Volkswagen campaign used artificial intelligence to resurrect Elis Regina, a beloved Brazilian singer who died four decades ago at age 36, and reunite her with her daughter—who was 4 years old when she lost her mother, and who is now a Grammy-winning musical artist herself.
AlmapBBDO created the campaign, which shows Maria Rita driving VW’s electric ID Buzz through a deserted landscape. Soon, another car pulls up next to her—driven by a computer-generated version of her mother, who died of a drug overdose on Jan. 19, 1982. Regis—best known simply as “Elis”—is seen driving the ID Buzz’s predecessor, the VW Kombi, from years ago.
The pair sing a duet together, with the lyrics focused on how the past lives on in the present—a reference to the VW product line, and also Rita and Elis’s tragic story.
Unsurprisingly, the spot has been a sensation in Brazil, reaching more than 50 million organic views and becoming the subject of intense conversation countrywide. “It’s seven-something in the morning … and I’m bawling my eyes out,” Brazil’s first lady, Rosângela Lula da Silva, tweeted after watching the video.
The spot has raised ethical questions, though, about talent consent in the age of AI. After all, Elis couldn’t approve the use of her likeness this way—even though her family approved the project to move forward. In fact, Brazil’s advertising watchdog is said to be investigating a possible breach of ethics after receiving complaints about the work.
Creatively, however, it’s a uniformly impressive production. Produced by Boiler Filmes and directed by Dulcidio Caldeira, the film has clearly stirred emotions across Brazil. This is best captured in what Elis’s eldest son, the music producer João Marcello Bôscoli, told the Guardian about the campaign.
“For a second … I allowed myself to embark on this fantasy of my mother singing with a daughter who lost her mother when she was 4. It’s something that’s really moving – even when it’s in an advertising campaign,” said Bôscoli, who was 11 when his mother died.
“Why did this … campaign move people?” Bôscoli added. “Because it put them face-to-face with Elis. And almost anyone who listens to Elis Regina finds themselves moved, even when it’s through an AI mask … This is the power of great music: emotions, feelings and ideas.”
The campaign was released for Volkswagen’s 70th anniversary campaign, and also announces the Kombi’s return—as the ID Buzz—a decade after the original was discontinued.
“This film represents so much for everyone involved,” said Marco “Pernil” Giannelli, chief creative officer at AlmapBBDO. “It’s about Volkswagen’s story with Brazil, it’s the story of Elis Regina and Maria Rita, which was cut off far too soon, and for us at AlmapBBDO, it’s about a story that spans over 60 years, which is the time we’ve been working with the brand here in Brazil. The campaign puts sophisticated technology in the service of an extremely human goal: to touch people’s hearts. We’ve taken a groundbreaking duet out of the realm of imagination and made it absolutely real, for the two minutes the film lasts.”