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2006 Volkswagen Golf GTI by Conor Twomey
Recapturing enough essence.
Flint: VW’s Sinking Ship? by Jerry Flint
Better to “think small” than not think at all.
VW has begun running
the first ads from former MINI USA ad agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky,
In the case of these ads, your “Fast” refers to a driver’s inner longing to drive fast and zippy, as well as a strange-looking little plastic creature that looks like a cross between Darth Vader and an eight-ball, which appears in the ads. VW and Crispin executives say “Drivers Wanted” was suspended just for the GTI launch, and that it isn’t going away…yet.
“Fast” rides with the drivers of the car, and is heard speaking as if it’s the driver’s conscience, or maybe the Great Gazoo of Flintstones fame. In one TV ad, a guy apparently in his early 20s is seen enjoying his GTI drive. The windows are down, the engine is revving and his girlfriend’s hair is blowing all over her face. She asks if he can put the windows up. The “Fast” is heard to say in a computer-altered voice, “My Fast likes to drive with the windows down.” The wind-blown girlfriend asks (whines) why they always have to ride with the windows down. His “Fast” implores, “Don’t. Don’t.” The driver, a slightly geeky looking driving enthusiast cuts her off: “Sweety, it’s really hard to enjoy the sound of the engine with all that yackin’.” His delivery is delicious and dead-on.
All four of the new GTI ads can be viewed at www.myfastgti.com, which is not a VW or Crispin-created corporate site, but rather one put up by a VW enthusiast. VW’s featured site for the GTI is www.projectfast.com.
These ads are a bit risky, as the TV spot described above and another both marginalize women the way some beer commercials do. The other GTI spot in this vein depicts a guy going off to run an errand, leaving his girlfriend behind. He locks the door on her, explaining he’ll go alone and doesn’t want her extra weight impeding his GTI driving experience. These ads are funny, and perhaps most importantly, put the car and the brand in the center of the commercial as the star.
The love of the car and the VW driving experience is what makes the ad go. There’s an energy and intensity of brand love in the ads I haven’t seen from VW in five, six, maybe eight years. I can recall a series of TV ads by previous ad agency Arnold Worldwide that anticipated the arrival of the then-new Jetta. One TV spot showed a guy at a backyard barbecue when he drops a chicken leg into a bowl of mashed potatoes or potato salad, and then starts shifting it like a stick shift and making engine sounds with his mouth. Another TV ad showed a woman working out her left leg at a health club, revealing she is working out her clutch-leg in anticipation of the new Volkswagens.
I think Volkswagen is on the right track with the energy and attitude in these ads. It’s important to remember, though, that this campaign is specific to the GTI, and that the proof that Volkswagen did well by choosing former MINI USA ad chief Kerri Martin as head of VW marketing communication and Crispin as its new agency will be in whether they can inject some life and energy into the redesigned Jetta and Passat.
Launching soon will be another series of TV ads for GTI themed, “Pre-Tuned in Deutschland.” These ads are meant to position the GTI as a better choice than other pocket rockets that are re-tuned by after-market shops. The star of these ads is a German blonde, white-leather clad dominatrix-type, named Helga, who rides along with GTI drivers. On Volkswagen’s Web site, www.vw.com, visitors who configure their own GTI can go for a virtual ride with Helga in the digital domain. VW is mum on how Helga was cast, but I’m guessing, by her demeanor, that she was discovered on a German porn channel.
The “Helga” ads are a big departure for Volkswagen, which has made the tone of its ads more serious the last few years as it launched premium and luxury models like the SUV, Phaeton sedan and Passat W8. It’s worth noting that of those three, only the Touareg has been a success while the product distractions and the change in course of VW’s marketing has contributed to VW’s loss of more than 100,000 in annual sales since 2001 in the States. Crispin Porter creative director Alex Bogusky and VW ad chief Kerri Martin say Volkswagen became less clear even to the brand’s loyal customers and enthusiasts. “You don’t buy a house unless you understand the neighborhood it’s in,” says Bogusky.
It remains to be seen if the GTI, long a marginal model with the general buying public, can add zip to the VW lineup as a halo car. VW was saved in 1998 with the launch of the New Beetle and the accompanying publicity that the car received.
Crispin Porter is arguably the hottest ad agency in the U.S., having scored a great deal of buzz marketing accolades for its work for Burger King, such as the “Subservient Chicken” Web campaign and TV ads featuring a creepy life-size version of the “Burger King.” Nevertheless, the agency has big shoes to fill. Volkswagen advertising defined two eras in the ad business — the 1960s with classic ads for the Beetle headlined “Think Small” and “Lemon,” as well as the mid- and late 1990s with the Drivers Wanted campaign.
The new GTI campaign doesn’t rise to the level of art, or VW’s past great campaigns. But it’s a start in the right direction.