As they zip and dodge through falling boulders and imaginary barriers, the gleeful unreality of it all reaches new levels. 8/10
If the roaring success of ‘Max Max: Fury Road’ has taught us anything, it’s that ‘cars doing crazy things’ is a more or less inexhaustible genre.
The same can be said of online advertising, which loves nothing more than outlandish four-wheeled stunts, whether that’s burning rubber, smashing records or using cars as a means of extraterrestrial communication.
Castrol seems ideally placed to raise the car stunt stakes, and their latest spot does just that.
In support of its new product, Titanium Strong (which sounds a bit like a forgotten member of the A-Team), the ad takes the usual tyre-ripping, fish-tailing fare and sprinkles in a little bit of cutting edge tech. Specifically, virtual reality. And if car chase plus virtual reality doesn’t catch your attention, we’re clearly not speaking the same language.
The high watermark for this genre of online adverts is Ken Block, very much the Pele of unnecessary fuel consumption. Working under the aegis of brands like DC Shoes, Ford and Monster Energy, the 47-year-old rally driver has rightly made viral history with his ‘Gymkhana’ series of ads.
The videos, each of which takes place in a different city, are released roughly annually and are typically met with the kind of anticipation usually reserved for a new Drake mixtape.
World of VR
Renowned for their relentless pace and stunning choreography, Block’s ‘Gymkhana’ videos have collectively racked up hundreds of millions of views, with two entries sitting comfortably within the 25 most shared online adverts of all time. His previous collaboration with Castrol, "Footkhana", was one of the most shared ads from last year’s World Cup.
Block’s influence is undeniable in ‘Virtual Drift’, but its tech-happy hook does plenty to set it apart. Strapping a VR headset to an intrepid driver, Castrol sets about constructing a perfectly-mapped imaginary environment for him to explore.
So even though he’s actually doing donuts on an abandoned airport runway, he thinks he’s bombing around some kind of dystopic, obsidian world that occasionally changes shape out of nowhere. Technology really is a magical thing.
The resulting spot is something that feels like a videogame brought to life, complete with constructed environments and a heads-up display. Thankfully, Castrol didn’t think to include frustrating bouts of lag, or sugar-mad pre-teens swearing at you over headsets.
But whether you’re a gamer or not, there’s a visceral rush to seeing how the real world translates into Castrol’s made-up one. The spot is as much about technical ingenuity as it is about heart-thumping action.
Any fans of Mario Kart will also appreciate the arrival of (cue dramatic music) a mysterious nemesis, hell-bent on thwarting our hero. The new rival, playing the pernicious Bowser to his Mario, is a massive star in this genre and adds a jolly adversarial quality to proceedings.
As they zip and dodge through falling boulders and imaginary barriers, the gleeful unreality of it all reaches new levels. While we won’t spoil the surprise (and if you’ve been reading this so far, you can definitely guess who it is), Castrol’s witty stunt casting is another reason to get behind ‘Virtual Drift’.
While producing a successfully viral car spot seems like a no-brainer ("pumping soundtrack? Check. Total disregard for road safety? Check"), the genre’s saturation makes it a tougher ask.
This is why brands must dig deeper and think harder to innovate within traditionally successful viral genres. No one ever reached a million shares with a wholesale imitation, and ‘Virtual Drift’ makes a strong case for improving beyond what’s come before.