Advertising, Car Design

VW in a New Light

For baby boomers who came of age in the late 1960s, the VW Beetle is a symbol of carefree youthful abandon, beach parties, rock concerts, and living happily on a shoestring.  It was a protest against the materialism of the older folks and their thirst for big cars with long tail fins.  Aware that the humpbacked VW Bug could not compete on speed, comfort or sleek styling, ad agency Doyle Dane Bernbach had the chutzpah to turn the Beetle’s shortcoming into a symbol of hipness with bluntly honest slogans like “Think Small” and “Lemon.”  It worked.  By 1973, VW had sold more than 16 million Beetles worldwide.

Now with VW’s launch of a campaign for the new I.D. Buzz electric microbus, the automaker is as forthright (and clever) as it was 50 years ago. Its new ad campaign for the I.D. Buzz opens on a lone figure peering into a pitch-black cavernous space as a distant radio broadcasts the story of VW’s emission testing scandal and the damage it has done to the brand.   The scene flashes shadowy glimpses of a dejected auto designer sitting alone at a drawing board making pencil sketches of concepts that would revive the kind of love and loyalty that people had for VW’s hippie-era minibus.  As the designer immerses himself in the task, a soundtrack of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence,” the signature song of the free-spirited 1960s, sings softly “hello darkness, my old friend” and continues into livelier, more happier lyrics.  VW’s 21stcentury all-electric microbus takes form and the final scene of the commercial closes on the front headlights beaming out of the darkness, bearing a striking resemblance to Pixar/Disney’s Buzz Lightyear superhero.  Viewers never see the whole car.

Produced by New York-based lead creative agency Johannes Leonardo, the TV commercial is inspired on so many levels. It staging and soundtrack are filled with allusions — nostalgia for the beloved little Beetle, sheepish acknowledgement of its emission tampering, the angst of struggling out of the self-created darkness and starting fresh at the drawing board, and finally emerging from the shadows with the closing line:  “In the darkness, we found the light. “  There is no mention of the I.D. Buzz features or views of its interior, just the tagline “a new era of electric driving.”  Intriguing.