Thank goodness the best talent always wants to work on Volkswagen, but it is a bit irrational of them. Sure, the client understands its brand and what makes it thrive much better than most, but anything not extraordinarily original and yet spot on the Volkswagen tone of voice will sink without trace. Wouldn't it be easier to do something halfway good for a small Midlands sausage company?
The best brand campaigns manage to be the same but different all the time: not too much constraint of format or devices that can tire, but with a clear personality endlessly re-expressing itself in surprising new ways. This is what Volkswagen has managed for a very long time: always surprising.
Volkswagen's reputation was built on being physically strong and reliable.
The commercials knocked the car about to show how much it could take.
In this first commercial on the reel, "back to Japan", that approach is echoed and combined with the surprising fact that Volkswagen is a best seller in Japan (6). The last in the tradition of solid rational claims.
The sea change came with the David Bailey-directed film called "changes", moving the advertising on to emotional dependability (she dumps her bloke and even her fur coat, but drives off in her Golf GTi) (5). It was ahead of its time - no mention of camshafts. And beautifully done.
"UFO", an early script by Jeremy Craigen and a Frank Budgen production, is a much more convincing case for miles per gallon than inflated numeric claims (1). A desert garage owner and his wife are bemused by a car that drives straight past, treating it as a UFO sighting. Wonderfully well-cast and performed as a piece of newscast in that genre of UFO nonsense.
Even low prices can be sold in a Volkswagen way, not dwelling on the cheapness (and its potential devaluation of the marque) per se but on the surprise that such unexpected prices could cause (2). So much of the power of the communication comes from what is not said - the viewer has to complete the joke of the lampposts being hung with protectors. Because you contribute to the joke, you somehow own the claim more thoroughly.
The spectacular production in black and white makes the case for small is secure for the Polo (3), and the latest complete change of tack "Singin' in the rain" is a surprising way of getting across the update after 30 years of the Golf (4).
There is a common tone to Volkswagen. Often wry and friendly, it gets under your skin. As a viewer, you feel part of a charmed circle who appreciates that sort of thing. It makes the brand special. But, at its best, the advertising has never been predictable; there is always a different take on an old subject.
Years ago, a car purchase was thought to be an entirely rational process, so there was little perceived need for TV and its emotional pull. But over the years it's become clear that nothing is purely rational. TV has been a vital part of Volkswagen branding and, despite the burgeoning number of new ways of reaching your market, I imagine it always will be.
When DDB and BMP came together in the late 80s, Volkswagen must have been worried about all the planning and the animals. So far there's been no Volkswagen bear ...
1. GOLF TDi Title: UFO Agency: BMP DDB Year: 1996 2. POLO Title: Lamppost Agency: BMP DDB Year: 1998 3. POLO Title: Protection Agency: BMP DDB Year: 1997 4. GOLF GTi Title: Singin' in the rain Agency: DDB London Year: 2005 5. GOLF Title: Changes Agency: BMP DDB Year: 1996 6. GOLF PLUS Title: Back to Japan Agency: DDB London Year: 2005