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VW's "Drivers wanted" is Dead. But Jetta Drivers Aren't in New Ads.

Posted by: David Kiley on April 17, 2006

VW Moviecopy.jpg

You can pretty much take this to the bank. Though VW executives have been hedging, Volkswagen’s ten year-old “Drivers wanted” tagline is dead. The new GTI work from new ad agency Crispin Porter +Bogusky, Miami didn’t carry it. And neither does the new Jetta ad campaign. And when pressed at last week’s New York Auto show, insiders said there’s no intention of using the line in any ads this year.

The GTI campaign, the reception of which has been somewhat polarized, just gave way to an effort for Jetta that plays up the car’s best-in-industry side impact crash rating. This campaign is startling, featuring real-time crashes that put the side-crash to the test. In one ad, four twenty-somethings are driving after they’ve seen a movie. The group is talking over whether the two men in the car cried at the ending. As the driver begins pulling out into an intersection, the car gets creamed from the side. No slow motion. Just a wickedly unexpected and realistic devastating crash. The ad cuts to the four people standing outside the car, grasping for breath and realizing how lucky they are.

The other ad shows two guys, one white and the other African-American (an unintended homage to the da-da-da boys in one of Arnold Worldwide’s most celebrated VW ads?), yacking it up, the one chastising the other about how much he uses the word “like” in conversation. He’s not watching ahead, and WHAMMO!, the car is hit from the side.

I also like the gimmick in these ads of the crash survivors looking over the accident afterward and starting to say, “Holy S….,” but the scene quickly cuts away to the sales pitch before the whole phrase comes out of a picture of a Jetta with a headline that says, “Safe Happens,” along with the Jettas’s five-star side-impact crash rating. That is also an element of the ad bound to cause some chatter in the public square. My stopwatch is ticking on how long it takes a religious group to issue a press release about how offended they are that VW and Crispin launched ads that play off the colloquialism, “Holy Shit,” on Easter weekend.

“We wanted to show the car’s safety in a way that was fresh and captured some of what’s important about the VW brand,” says creative director on the VW business at Crispin Porter+Bogusky Andrew Keller. Whereas Volvo, for example, and other companies often focus on the protection of children in ads, Keller says the two TV ads that just broke involve friends in the car. “The Jetta has been about hanging with friends and Jetta owners tell us that hanging with friends is extremely important to them.” Keller says he thought the ad would resonate better if the scene was about protecting your friends with a safe car.

Except for Volvo, safety doesn’t often factor into the reasons why people buy certain cars. But VW and Crispin are firing on all cylinders trying to reverse a slide in VW’s sales and image. I think these ads are terrific for one big reason. If your attention fades during a commercial break, as it often does, the impact of the crash, and the surprise of it, works well to jolt your attention back to the screen. The next time the ad is on, I would bet, that person who didn’t quite get all the ad the first time is going to tune in and pay closer attention.

VW and Crispin have been chattered about for more than a month over the new campaign for the GTI. Billboards that read “Unpimp Mein Auto,” “Auf wiedersehen, sucka,” and TV ads that, in one case, had a guy refusing to roll up the window and told her to stop “yackin’” because he wanted to hear the growl of the engine, have drawn praise and brickbats and very little indifference.

And that’s the point. VW has been working on fixing the quality problems that hassled its owners and tanked its sales the last three years. But it has to get people talking about its cars and brand again the way they did in the late 1990s when it launched the New Beetle and had industry leading advertising.

The GTI ad campaign is but one piece of the evolving Volkswagen brand image. That work embodies the notion that driving Volkswagens is still a more fun experience than driving most Asian or U.S. cars, and that German engineering still matters.

The new Jetta spots do as good a job as I have seen in getting a very rational safety message across in an engaging and compelling way.

Everyone seems to be talking about the need to create advertising that rises to the level of entertainment to stop the incessant ad zappers and TiVo happy TV watchers. I’d say that the first work out of Crispin on these two models qualifies.

Reader Comments


April 17, 2006 5:13 PM

While reading this, I'm struck by the arrogance of referring to 'religous groups's concerns dismissively, and then blowing through those concerns as if 'religous groups' couldn't include people who read your blog. Why limit your audience? Hasn't any of the journalists covering business explained what a good idea it is not to offend people by communicating your anti-religous bigotry?

And, in case your memory is a little spotty, there's already been a GM ad that played off this concept about their styling.

But, yes, I think you're right about the ads. If only this brilliant agency could actually improve reliability...


April 21, 2006 9:25 PM

Re: solomonrex's comment - religious group - c'mon, what other type of group is going to object to these ads? Vegetarians? Lesbians? Dog Owners? I don't think there was any arrogance here at all, and I don't think any anti-religous bigotry is shown. It's not as if the writer said "All those religous Bible Thumpers will be angry about this." They are religous, they are a group, and it's within their right to object to "Holy S***". It was you, by the way, who pluralized it.


April 26, 2006 2:28 AM

this ad is ridiculous and no i am not a religous zealot (as if that really matters). what is at issue here is an ad firm that thinks they are being "provacative" by bringing that kind of over the top reality into someones humble home. Doesnt make you stop and think, doesnt lower traffic fatalities, just causes a disturbing moment (particularly for those that have lost loved ones in car accidents) all to pimp an automobile. Lame, very lame. By they way, another tired analysis is that if people talk about it - it is good. There are a hundred things you could sell against morbid outcomes. Where have all the creative people gone?

christine mclean

April 26, 2006 5:24 PM

The first new car I ever bought for myself was a Jetta. Since then I have driven Audi's. I am a fan of German engineering. I am not however, a fan of insensitive advertising.

If I had to guess I would say you have never been involved in a serious collision. Maybe one in which a loved one was maimed or killed? Someone like your dad perhaphs?

Car crashes kill. If you have ever been involved in a serious accident, you never quite get over it.

I do not appreciate being assaulted in my own living room with a realistic car crash. Safe happens? Well so does death.

Awake from a crash with the smell of burning rubber, look to see your father sitting next to you gasping for breath with his legs mangled. Imagine your are 6 miles from reaching your destination of St. Andrew's Scotland, you father's day present to your dad. Then watch the add. I guarantee it will seem a little different.

Cheryl Councill

April 27, 2006 3:43 PM

In respect to your praise over the Volvo people. As a serious accident happened to me back in 2003. I don't enjoy reliving the accident. I will never buy a Volvo car! They need to think of people instead of dollars.


September 25, 2006 3:59 PM

I hope that my niece, who lost her mother to a side impact crash, is never traumatized by seeing these commercials. 1 in 84 people in the US each year die in motor vehicle accidents. How many family members and friends will be assaulted by these ads just so car companies can get people to pay attention to their commercials? It made me want to throw my TV out the window, and it most certainly did not make me want to buy that car.


October 16, 2006 10:14 PM

christine...have you ever watched a movie. there is a plethora of films involving a plethora of crashes, usually of worse nature than the one shown. the VW ad merely depicted a Tbone style collision--no blood, fire, mangled legs..
yes car crashes kill, but not as much as tobacco, so why aren't you having a fit over the latest marlboro ad? i know it could seem a little too real, but that's how everything is now...movies, tv, radio, photography, life. this is a small detail and a very small aspect of life, and even more so, just an ad for some of the best autos on the market.
it's not intending to bring back bad memories, but instead to demostrated the safety devices integrated into the may just be me, but i'd love to see how new technology can potentially save my life.


December 24, 2006 10:47 PM

Barbara - 40k people die annually (in the US), out of 300 million people. That's 1 in 7500, not 1 in 86.

Anyway, I've been in a bad crash, and I don't see the ads as insensitive, rather the people who are incensed as oversensitive. Safety is an important factor, and making people think about it isn't wrong, regardless of the motives. If this were a MADD commercial, it would just be the drunks complaining instead of the families of accident victims.

Guess what? My friends who were in the gulf get jumpy every time they hear a bang. Should we censor loud noises? Past experiences may be regrettable, but that's no reason for the rest of the world to alter their behavior just in case there's a few people out there who have unresolved issues.

Ralph H

December 27, 2006 3:29 AM

This over-the-top, shock-effect advertising is carelessly insensitive and harmful to families, and especially to young crash victims. Religious concerns aside, I do NOT appreciate this crap thrown at my children in the middle of a family show. NO MORE VIOLENT ADVERTISING for the sake of sales. Nor do I appreciate my children hearing the "Holy S---!" phrase, again, thrown at us for the sake of shock value. Enough is enough. I will NEVER BUY ANOTHER VW PRODUCT while this current administration continues such tasteless and HARMFUL tactics. The de-sensitization of our children to violence for the sake of corporate profits is reprehensible. What's next??

Angry Llama

June 9, 2007 9:12 PM

"While reading this, I'm struck by the arrogance of referring to 'religous groups's concerns dismissively, and then blowing through those concerns as if 'religous groups' couldn't include people who read your blog. Why limit your audience? Hasn't any of the journalists covering business explained what a good idea it is not to offend people by communicating your anti-religous bigotry?"

Never before has so much dumb been crammed into a wall of text.


October 13, 2007 7:11 AM

The whole point is to let the viewer see how safe the car is. The VW group prodoce very safe cars. If everyone bought the safest car they could afford then maybe not so many people would be killed and injured in car crashes. Too many people get carried away by wanting the flashiest of cars and pay no attention to safety. I own an Audi 100. This was THE safest car of its day. It has pro con ten and no airbags. In a bad accident the car is able to pull all the steering wheel and dash board away from the passengers and the passengers are also pulled back from all the dangerous areas. Much more effective and a giant pillow blowing up! The reason this system is no longer produced is because Americans wanted adjustable steering wheel columns and with pro con ten this option is not available! People are more interested in fancy gadgets than safety! I am glad this ad shows what the realities are and makes people think about safety and not gimmicks!

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