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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September 5, 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 […]