The new Passat ad

Vw_badge_1 I saw the new Passat ad on Monday night and again last night. Pam and I just stared at each other with our mouths open. 

I wish I could find the ad on line.  In fact I couldn’t find as much as a single whisper.  I guess this ad is brand spanking new.   [Update: Thanks to Nicolai, I now know that the ad is on YouTube.  You can find it here.  Thank you, Nicolai!]

[Man in a blue car. He is shouting from his window with a megaphone.]

Because daddy never hugged me.

Because daddy never hugged me.

Because daddy never hugged me.

[Man and woman in white Passat drive past him.  They look at him and one another with alarm. Now they pass a bottle blonde in a red sports car. She is using her megaphone to exclaim:]

Because the more guys look at me, the more I love myself.

Because the more guys look at me, the more I love myself.

[Man and woman in Passat now pass a man sitting in his car. He uses his megaphone to say:]

Because I make more money than you!

Because I make more money than you!

[Now they pass a man in a yellow sports car. He uses his megaphone to declare:]

Because I am compensating for my shortcomings!

Because I am compensating for my shortcomings!

[Editorial note: On the YouTube version, the man is saying:

Because mine is only yeah big.]

[The Passat pulls away. Girl looks at boy. They shrug. Girl throws her megaphone out the window.}

[On the screen, a declaration appears in a tiny "consumer advisory" type face:]

Closed course. Do not throw megaphones or metaphors out your window.

[Voice over:] Volkswagen Passat, lowest ego emissions of any German made sedan.

[Close up on back panel of Volkswagen:]

"Passat" [and below that a badge that reads] "Low Ego Emissions"

Ok, the analysis:

There is a lot to like about this ad. Sure, it trashes the consumer culture, competitive brands and most consumers. Sure, it insists that non-Passat drivers are driven by childhood insecurity, sexist delirium or the rankest status competititon.

But the ad does this so well and so elegantly, all is forgiven. In advertising, it turns out, this is allowed. You can trash the industry, all your competitors and most other consumers, and that’s ok. Actually, there is a chance that the Passat marketing and creative team will get an award.

Here’s the thing: all brand messages are more subtle than this.  All consumer self expressions are more nuanced.  (Well, not Donald Trump, of course.)  Naturally, that doesn’t matter when Crispin Porter + Bogusky sit down to do creative for Volkswagen, nor should it have too. 

It really is a marvel, this ad.  The "trying too hard," "protesting too much" megaphones.  The "easy to recognize" stereotypes.  The effortless build, as a pretty strange proposition rolls out with perfect clarity.  But what really works is the proposition that "ego driven" drivers pollute the world.  This analogy (most cars : driving :: polluters : the environment) has the power of the zeitgeist going for it.  At a stroke Crispin Porter + Bogusky has turned every competitive brand into a Hummer.  Nice work, if you can pull it off.  And I think they did. 

The other half of the proposition (Passat drivers : all drivers :: Prius drivers : fume spewing, gas guzzler drivers), this is a little dangerous. After all, Passat drivers are in fact fume spewing and gas guzzling. But again the sheer elan of the ad pulls it off. (Only the Dickensenian anthropologist, joylessly pulling things off Tivo, is going to dwell on the problem.)

The real problem here is that the spot is a little smug. It says: "we, the Passat drivers, are the only ones who get it. We are above all this. Everyone else is a clueless, self absorbed, obnoxious jerk." 

This may be the very way Passat drivers see themselves.  (It would be very interesting to see the research and planning that went into this.)  But when you reveal this to be true, you tempt some people to say "oh, please, get over yourself." This is, for instance, pretty much the way I think about Hummer drivers. It would be a pity if it’s the way Crispin Porter moved me to think about Passat drivers.

On balance, though, this is bold and brilliant advertising. Well done, Passat. Well done, CP + B.

17 thoughts on “The new Passat ad

  1. Candy Minx

    I’ve seen this and thought it was pretty funny. They did nail the actual connection between our egos and the way we treat the neighbourhood. Isn’t it called Mnaifest Destiny or something? Even if someone developed a fumeless car…I don’t get why lardasses can’t walk to the corner store. The problem with cars isn’t just the gas. Take a bus. Walk to the park. Well, the car generation is getting old, whew.

  2. Matt

    VW has spent a LOT of time building a brand reputation that can deflect the smugness. NOBODY takes the semiotics of VW ads seriously. They’ve spent serious megabucks on a long series of campaigns all moving toward this goal. And this ad will further serve that goal.

    A very smart strategy, for selling to an irony-enhanced culture.

    (That and five bucks will buy a cup of crappy Starbucks coffee. But that and making really great cars sold me a Passat last year. 🙂 )

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  6. Charles Frith

    Don’t forget that at the heart of the VW brand architecture is the value/tonality (I forget which) of ‘Understated’ which derives from the brand’s great origins as the ‘People Car – Volkswagen’. Great creatives seize on words like that. Much more relevant than the ubiquitous ‘ironic, confident and irreverent’ that litter briefs from Agencies and sad to say marketing departments that have lifted the creative brief pro-forma.

  7. Anonymous

    It would be very interesting to see the research and planning that went into this.

    I suspect there was little research, based on what I’ve read about CP+B. The recent VW safty ads that featured actual crashes were not tested at all. Which is perhaps why you’re not seeing the same old auto industry-style ads (Mercury Mountaineer, anyone?) coming from them.

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  11. Andre'

    There is something strangely disturbing about this ad. (I sat in stunned silence when I first saw it) With the 1984 Superbowl Apple Macintosh ad being a 10 on the attention-grabbing meter, this has to be at least an eight! “I laughed, I cried… I dunno…” I just can’t let it go. Its like a cathy show-tune you hear and gets you hummin’ or whistling it all day long.
    “perflexing, uplifting, the common strand, of all things shifting—the soul of man…”

  12. Shaheed Hasan

    This is one of the worst ads, if not the worst ad ever ..came to TV in the last god knows how many years. I promise I will never buy any VW ( before I saw the ad I actually was thinking to take a test drive the new Passat…because of it’s good look). My whole family and I just hate the ad. I was reading some of the comments but have to disagree with all the lovers of the ad. I have a BBA and an MBA in Consumer’s Behavior and Advertising…but could not get out a single point of the ad…who is the target customer, what is the product ( Passat is totally overshadowed by those stupid loud remarks)and so on. I just hate the ad. I give it an F-.

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