Darth Vader Works His Mojo for VW, but Mini Misses the Mark

Posted by: David Welch on February 11, 2011

After my last missive gave a ‘thumbs down’ to Chrysler’s 200 ad, which aired during the Super Bowl, one reader asked for my take on Volkswagen’s “Darth Vader” spot for the Passat. Since more of you disagreed with my view on Chrysler’s Eminem ad than sided with me, I’m flattered. In VW’s ad, a young boy is marching around his house in a Darth Vader costume that must be the envy of the neighborhood. He tries to use The Force to get his dog to rise, open the dryer, move a sandwich across the counter, and all in vain. Finally, dad comes home in the Passat. Junior Darth starts with the Jedi gesticulations to get the car to do something. We don’t know what exactly. Dad uses remote start from inside the house to fire up the ignition. His son is shocked. He got the force to work. He thinks he started the car with Jedi mind tricks.
My take: It’s a great ad, and not just because I like John Williams’ score “Darth Vader’s Theme.” This ad is a lot of fun and shows once again that VW doesn’t take itself too seriously. VW’s marketing efforts have usually displayed some joie de vivre and consistently cast a fun image. They have done some more serious ads when talking about safety features, but generally VW’s marketing has been pretty loose. It’s a testament to VW marketing that the brand has so much recognition in the U.S., even though its actual sales presence is so small. About 19% of car buyers shop it, according to research firm Strategic Vision. But only 2% of Americans buy VWs. Fat sticker prices have long kept many buyers away. That may change as the new Passat starts around $20,000, which is a $7,000 drop from the last-generation car. Giving up so much price in the name of sales volume is a questionable strategy. For now, let’s stick to the ad. It was humorous and right for VW.
The Super Bowl is getting smaller in the rearview mirror at this point, but while I’m on it let me talk about one more ad. It must be said. Mini’s “Cram it in the Boot” ad was truly terrible. The theme is you can cram all kinds of things in the back of a Mini Countryman. But the fraternity house double entendre is beneath a car brand that has great cachet and appeals to a sophisticated buyer. They really missed the mark with that one.

Reader Comments

jimmy2x

February 15, 2011 7:02 PM

regarding the vw darth vader ad -- it is a great video. nicely shot and the kid is excellent. but in the end it showcases what - the auto-start feature? not feeling the actual "go buy a car" impact here.
i laughed when I first heard "cram it in the boot!" but not sure what the strategy is here. selling a mini countryman to grade school boys? plus this spot seemed to go away from the other "good in the snow" direction. other tv spots + a GIANT times square billboard (http://blog.cincinnatimini.com/2011/02/mini-countryman-in-times-square/) have this direction which seems to make more sense, imho.

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Want the straight scoop on the auto industry? Our man in Detroit David Welch, brings keen observations and provocative perspective on the auto business.

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