Close-Up: Newsmakers - Lee and Dan come clean after that VW viral

Police, pillows and a Polo - the real story behind the VW viral that almost blew up in its makers' faces.

As an attempt to get a job as a creative team, making a viral starring a suicide bomber had wider repercussions than its creators, Lee (Ford) and Dan (Brooks), imagined.

If they'd wanted to court notoriety and demonstrate the power of viral communications, they would have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams - but they didn't. "We just came up with the idea for a spec ad and decided to put it together with some friends," Brooks says. "We wanted it to be TV quality to use on a showreel when we were approaching agencies - it was never intended to go on the web."

The viral featured a suicide bomber who attempts to blow himself up outside a restaurant in a Volkswagen Polo but the car remains intact. The endline, "Polo. Small but tough", then appeared.

So how did it make its way around the world in hours? "Some mates who had worked on it with us asked about it so I put a hidden link on our website and just told a few of them it was there," Brooks says.

"I went to bed that night and when I woke up the site was really slow so I checked the hits and realised how many people had accessed it overnight.

I said to Lee 'we've got a problem here' and took the link down. Then we started getting hundreds of e-mails via the site from people saying they couldn't find the link."

VW threatened legal action but subsequently accepted a formal apology from Lee and Dan. And despite press reports that the ad had cost upwards of £40,000 to make, the duo are adamant that they paid only to hire the car, for the film itself and for post-production and related costs.

The pair directed the film while a friend held the camera. "We had to call in some favours to get hold of the 35mm kit which had a bolt on the tripod missing, so the cameraman had to hold it on by balancing it on a pillow," Ford says. "When we were shooting the first scene, a police car pulled up next to the camera - they were arresting someone on the same road - but because we were running late we had to have the guy with the fake bomb strapped to him carry on and walk out in front of them."

Getting hold of the right model of car was not easy either. "The hire company couldn't understand why we were going on about definitely needing a Polo, it's not something you're allowed to specify when you hire a car. They kept asking what we wanted it for," Ford adds.

Ford and Brooks even appear in the ad itself - in the final scene, they are the two sitting outside the cafe as the bomb goes off - because filming delays meant the location for the final scene wasn't as busy as they wanted it to be.

Now Lee and Dan have signed with the London production company Quad and with Czar in New York and Los Angeles. Separately, they have also been commissioned to create some politically inspired short films for a TV company and to do a viral ad for a charity.

"We don't want to close the door to being a creative team in an ad agency but at the moment the opportunities we've been offered are on the directing side," Ford says.

"The irony is that a lot of people are now approaching us for viral work but really we've never been about that."


Dan Brooks, 30

Graduated from London College of Printing, graphics and film. Assisted on film and commercials sets for Why Not Films. Later worked as a freelancer on music video and ad shoots.

Lee Ford, 33

Graduated from St Martin's College, graphic design. Worked as a fashion photographer's assistant before trying advertising. Roles at agencies included two-year stint at Ogilvy on work including Ford Sportka.