OPINION: Cowen on ... VW Lupo

Another week, another car ad about babies. Last time it was the

Peugeot 406's meditation on paternity, now it's BMP DDB's latest work

for the Volkswagen Lupo. And that's where the similarity ends. For

whereas Peugeot's musings on birth are retracing familiar baby steps,

the Lupo ad is something of a black sheep in the VW advertising family.

It has little in common with its predecessors, but there's a family

resemblance in the quality of the work.

Ever since the mid-60s, when Doyle Dane Bernbach developed the original

"small is beautiful" ads, Volkswagen has won over hearts and minds with

a parade of executions founded on unerring wit. Wry takes on human

nature and the products' own aesthetic limitations have established it

as the car marque that clever people drive.

So far, the Lupo's advertising has been firmly in this mould. Last

year's "Concentrated Volkswagen" posters, for example, provided gentle

mental stimulation akin to The Times crossword on a Sunday evening. As

such they were no preparation for the beast lurking in the new ad, where

a snowbound gothic hospital is haunted by a mysterious force which

breaks through doors, terrifies guard dogs and mangles patients'


Like all good shockers, the ad is scariest while the cause of the

destruction remains unseen. However, the tension doesn't dissipate when

we meet the nappy-clad culprit, whose unrealistic look and animal-like

movements only add to the confusing, surreal atmosphere. When headlights

momentarily flash over the child's eyes, it's the first time an audience

realises that it's been unnerved in the name of car advertising.

This is adrenaline-pumping stuff and for good reason. Like the

PlayStation2 "wolfman" spot, the only ad this year to rival it for sheer

energy, the Lupo work is aiming to stimulate a particularly young, 17-

to 28-year-old demographic.

If Volkswagen advertising can be accused of one fault over the years,

it's that the intellectual appeal of the spots fails to engage at an

instinctive or emotional level. This threatens to restrict the marque's

strength to the middle-class, middle-aged bracket - and could be a

barrier to the younger generation identifying with the VW brand.

Priced at less than £8,000, the Lupo may not look like much - a

problem this ad sidesteps by avoiding showing the vehicle - but it's

available in the kind of sporty Gti versions that get young motorists

excited. After shifting 4,642 units during its first year and 6,713 in

its second, the Lupo is in a healthy enough state but there's also room

for growth. In short, if VW wants to drive at the youth market, then

this is the car to do it in.

However, the effects of shifting a car marque's advertising are never

likely to be restricted to a single model. The Lupo spot is likely to

colour our responses to Volkswagen as a whole - and the risk is that the

new persona could alienate drivers who like to see their VW badge as

something equivalent to Mensa membership. Such concerns seem to have

shaped the media schedule for the ad. Outside of cinema, the £2

million spend is closely targeted at "cutting-edge" TV - Bravo, the

Sci-Fi Channel and selected Channel 4. It's as if the Lupo baby can be

kept in the nursery, out of sight of mature minds.

I hope that Volkswagen overcomes this caution. Even great advertising

has to move on eventually and, if you ask me, Volkswagen's TV work is

running out of ways to outdo itself in the "oh so clever" stakes. To

pack tension, excitement and an unexpected payoff into 60 seconds, as

this ad does, is evidence of real intelligence rather than dumbing down.

Any VW driver will surely realise that.

Dead cert for a Pencil? This baby was born with a silver Pencil in its


File this ad under? T for terrifying - or terrific.

What would the chairman's wife say? That's it. I definitely don't want

any more kids.


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