Bill Hader in a VW Academy commercialEnlarge Photo
Everyone knows that Volkswagen is wrangling to become the world's largest automaker by 2018. We also know that the company has had trouble on the sales front, especially here in the U.S., where VW's numbers have been on the decline since the original Beetle's heyday in the 1970s. To counter that, Volkswagen has launched a new campaign to generate awareness about its stateside lineup -- and maybe a few chuckles in the process. Maybe.
The campaign is called the "VW Academy", and it comes, appropriately, from Deutsch, Los Angeles. It centers around short (no longer than three-minute) videos of prim, knowledgeable Danielle Gumro talking about various VW models, with Saturday Night Live's gangly Bill Hader acting as her foil. Gumro does a good job of walking viewers through the high points of each ride, but the series is overshadowed by some major problems:
1. Hader isn't funny. He's clever enough in SNL skits, where he typically plays the central character, but being a sidekick doesn't suit him. (Nor do the weak jokes, which were penned by Hader and SNL's John Mulaney.) The word "underutilized" comes to mind.
2. Gumro comes off as bland. The creative team worked so hard to distinguish Gumro's authority from Hader's goofiness that she sounds like she's reciting facts off a brag sheet. Deutsch was likely aiming for the offbeat chemistry last seen in the John Hodgman/Justin Long commercials for Mac, but sadly, the mark was missed.
3. The ads talk a lot about the competition. We all remember Howie Long's car commericals, right? But does everyone remember which company he pitched for? There's the clip in which he poked fun at the F-150's "man step" -- which was funny, perhaps, but the piece of that ad that really stuck with viewers was the F-150, not the Chevy Silverado. Deutsch does a better job than that -- they don't actually show competing vehicles in these videos -- but they're still centered around comparisons, which essentially give the other brands airtime.
VW has had some great ads in the past. Maybe not the "shoot the gap" commercial. And definitely not the debut ad for the 2011 Jetta. But remember the "Unpimp" ads? And what about Max? Bring back Max, please. Otherwise, we're left with this:
A pratfall? Seriously?