'You know small cars. They're nippy, flighty, things. Cute, bubbly shapes, get you around town. At least, that's how the branding business sees them. For some reason, car marketers and their agencies have all landed on the same insight, and put their collective budgets and creativity behind it.
So almost every small car is nippy in spectacular fashion. They play hide and seek; perform dance routines; transport Nicole and Thierry Henry. At the end of this creative arms race they are indistinguishable. Worse, they're insubstantial. Surely some motorists would prefer a small car with a bit more gravitas? Hence Volkswagen's smart decision to position Polo as a small vehicle with substance.
Eleven years ago Volkswagen dazzled viewers with a campaign showing people crouching to shield themselves from danger, wrapped in the music of Faure's Requiem and the stop-in-your-tracks endline 'Have you noticed how protected
you feel when you make yourself small?' The insight sustained Polo for a decade. It has become the protective small car, with the trust and premium that comes with the position.
But even Polo has to fight for attention. So the defensive idea of protection morphs into the more lively idea of confidence, and the tough little car starts behaving like Nicolas Sarkozy.
The latest ad shows a Jack Russell terrier singing The Spencer Davis Group's I'm A Man while he rides in a Polo, and contrasts this confident behaviour with his lack of confidence outside the vehicle.
The first 10 seconds of singing dog is a joy, but outside the car, the dog doesn't just lack confidence, he's cowering. The joy stops there. You don't have to be a crank to feel uncomfortable about the sight of a vulnerable creature quivering and whimpering.
Now Volkswagen has to weigh up 1m hits on YouTube against 500 complaints to the ASA. It has a hit on its hands, but without the cowering dog outside the car, it could have had a triumph.'