Marketing 101: Volkswagen – Das Auto

3rd National Marketing Conclave at KSOM
September 3, 2012
BBA-I freshers function: Neoteric la Hausse
September 7, 2012

Marketing 101: Volkswagen – Das Auto

Volkswagen has managed to make some of the most viral and effective advertisements in recent times. Its last two Superbowl ads have been phenomenal in terms of audience recall and viral appeal.

The 2011 superbowl became the most watched TV show in American media history with as estimated more than 111 million tuning in to watch the show. This means essentially 1 in 3 American viewed the superbowl last year. This year, the record was bettered by 0.3 million. You can see the superbowl XLV Nielsen audience ratings here. The ratings for this years superbowl are here.

For the uninitiated, Superbowl is the annual joint championship for american professional football.  You can find out more about Superbowl at their Wikipedia page.

Because of its huge fan base and reach, the Superbowl is unlike any other media event in the US. The rates to advertise during the Superbowl are also equally unlike any other media rates in the US. This is how the spot rates (that is the amount that has to be paid for a 30sec advertisement to be aired once during the Superbowl)

Spot rates for superbowl over the Years

So, in Superbowl XLV a 30 second spot cost USD 3 million to be aired once! And you reached a little over a hundred billion with that ad(at least theoretically). So it may not be that bad a deal.

Because of the hype and the reach along with emotional attachment of the biggest fan base in the US companies usually have standalone campaigns specifically made for the Superbowl event. Most notably, Apple had used the Superbowl in 1984 to advertise and introduce its Macintosh computer. Here is that ad. Though it is an aside for this post, this remains one of the most iconic ads ever.


So we have sufficiently established the iconic nature of Superbowl advertising and the bang for the buck that advertisers receive by showing their advertisements during Superbowl. Now let us get back to Das Auto. (“Das Auto”, by the way, translates from German to  “The Car” in English)

Volkswagen came up with the following advertisement for 2011 Superbowl.

The ad is called “The Force”. The ad was very well received. However, the clincher was when the ad was posted on youtube and went viral. It has had over 50 million views since. So, Volkswagen were able to get undivided attention of almost half the claimed television  reach without spending a dime more! This is the power of the digital platform and social media.

Now let us try to deconstruct why this ad works.

  • People love seeing a good functional family.
  • An adorable kid doing kid-like things is always endearing.
  • Humor
  • Mix that one of the most popular and iconic movie franchises of all time – Star Wars.

What you have is a good advertisement.

The problem with all successful endeavors always is that the next endeavor will always be compared with that one. Volkswagen were faced with the same – How do they trump the 2011 Superbowl ad in 2012? Answer was simple – Keep the formula intact and maybe even build on it!

This is the ad that came out in 2012 Superbowl. This is known as the Dog Strikes back ad – a tip of the hat to Star Wars V: The empire strikes back (1980).

The elements remain the same. The quintessential american family is completed with a couple, a kid and a dog! That’s how you can go beyond what you did in 2011.

The starting is in almost the same home that was shown in the 2011 ad, only this time instead of the kid in the Darth Vader Suit – you have a fat dog. The dog then goes through a comic weight loss program and turns out fitter. This is when the product is inserted only as an incidental – the new Volkswagen Beetle. The ad has almost no relation with the last year’s ad till now. Suddenly, all that becomes an ad being watched by aliens and the Intergalactic super-villain makes his appearance.

This ad was also well received, but only by the critics and not by the entire audience. This ad has got a little more than 15 million youtube views. Though the same things keep on working for the new ad also, some things obviously did not work as well. What are those?

  • The two layered ad – Dog + Aliens made it difficult to understand
  • If you had not seen the earlier ad then it makes less sense as a standalone ad. Now, we have no data on what is the repeat viewership over last years Superbowl, though it is safe to assume there is a decent overlap.
  • The humor that you have in the Star Wars segment is lost if you have not seen Star Wars. In the first ad, it doesn’t really matter if you have seen Star Wars or not. It is just a cute kid in a dark suit!

This was the ad that came in as a teaser to the Superbowl ad.

This has got more than 17 million views. Yes, more than the main ad! The teaser has more and simpler novelty than the main ad! And it works.

Simplicity, humor, family, kids, dogs, good music always work.

This gives the story behind the scenes for the 2012 Dog Strikes back ad.

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  1. Piyush Kumar Jain says:

    Videos are not working in my laptop.I want to saw please give some suggestion……

    Piyush Ku. Jain

  2. Sandeep says:

    Remember seeing this episode of Mad Men, where everyone is going nuts over the iconic Volkwagen print ads in the 50s
    Wiki says, ” The 1959 Think Small Volkswagen series of advertisements were voted the No. 1 campaign of all time in Advertising Age’s 1999 The Century of Advertising.”

    Compared to that these ads are still playing to a formula (cute kid, dog, family etc.). High ad rates make for more conventional advertising?

  3. I have always been fascinated by ads. Good ads require a deeper understanding of the consumer psyche and somewhere touch a chord that makes all the difference.

    However, I always wonder what relationship watching has with really buying. Exposure to the brand would surely be high, but as far as the product/service shown in the ad is concerned, does a well-watched ad end up influencing consumers or just remain a feel-good, good-to-watch advertisement?

    I guess creating the propensity to buy separates good ads from great ads.

  4. Prof. Surya Mishra says:

    Abinash: Thanks. I hope I find time to write more on brands and issues I like.
    Sandeep: Yes. That is supposed to be the best campaign ever. “Think Small” came at a time when it was unthinkable to think small. It changed a lot of perceptions. It remains as one of the most impactful ads ever. That created a new formula maybe. The point is, that formulas work! A simple ad made simply with a working formula got the desired result. More frequent ad creation might reduce the overall quality and creativity, however from a marketing point of view as long as an ad does its job, it has earned its keep.
    Prof. Kar: I believe, ads like the ones we saw above don’t change buying propensity. However it creates a long term positive disposition towards the brand. I didn’t buy a Volkswagen Polo when I had to go for a hatchback. However it is definitely one of the brands I hold in high regard, consider purchasing and talk about! The very fact that some people might have liked the ads in the blog, will lead to a positive disposition in their minds and some word of mouth. This definitely goes a long way in the long term brand building. Of course, no one will say “the Darth Vader kid is cute so let me buy a Volkswagen Vento” or “the dog ad is really funny so let me have a look at the new Beetle”. What this will do, increase the brands esteem in the minds of the consumer.

  5. Prof. Ashutosh Kar says:

    Prof. Mishra, while most of what you say makes sense, what I meant by buying propensity is that ultimately a good ad must end up influencing the buying behaviour of a section of the consumers. Whether in the short term or in the long term; whether through direct viewership or through word-of-mouth. Whether you buy into the product or you buy into the brand. Buying propensity (not the act of buying) is important. Holding a brand in high regard is that propensity working in the background.

    As Ogilvy says, one can make a very creative ad, and yet have minimal impact on the sales. Another could be a not-so-creative ad, but sets the cash registers ringing. That would be a great Ad. The first one is a great piece of “creative work”, not a great “advertisement”.

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