Iconic Ads: Volkswagen – The Force

This Iconic Ad of Volkswagen – The Force was a perfect combination: Star Wars, nostalgia, touching moments, a narrative arc & humour

In 2010, Volkswagen had started planning for airing commercials during the 2011 Superbowl. It was gearing up for a major push in the international markets, especially the US. 

It was a niche brand in the US though it had a strong emotional connect, thanks to the VW Beetle advertising created by BBDO – Think Small, Lemon etc. VW wanted to double volumes.

In the 2010 Superbowl, VW had advertised after many years of absence. They planned to do so again in 2011.  

The media inventory they had booked were two 30 second spots. It was decided, that one would be for the newly redesigned Beetle and the other, they were open to suggestions.

Deutsch was handling was the account. And typical of all Superbowl related advertising, Deutsch had put multiple teams to work on the commercials. One of them had David Povill. He had been paired with Craig Melchiano, who incidentally was a freelancer and was in-between jobs. He and been brought to Deutsch by a recruiter who had asked him to do some concepting for around three weeks and then figure out something.

The brief to the creative teams were inspiring but lacking in creative direction. They were told to make something ‘ big and awesome.’

The first week, no good ideas. Second week – no good ideas either. By then they had got into a routine of working out of a coffee shop, situated across the Deutsch office. It is at this coffee shop that they saw a couple of kids (brothers) who were playing around. One kid pretended to spit on this hand and tried to put it on his brother’s face stating “I have the Force”

Craig was a Star Wars fan. He had watched “The Empire Strikes Back” religiously. The scene of Luke getting the ship out of the swamp had stuck in his mind. He also had a tattoo of the classic Yoda quote – “Do or do not, there is no try.”

After seeing the incident regarding the Kids, Craig thought “ What if a kid tries to move a VW every day. And on the 3rd or 4th day, his dad hides in the front seat and nudges the car ahead much to the kid’s surprise. David found it hilarious.

The plot was a little repetitive. So, they decided to flesh it out. And David knew, after working on car accounts, that you cannot have the dad hiding in the car seat and starting the car without looking at the road.

David also knew that newer cars had cool features like ignition through remote etc. But VW did not have it. Except the VW Passat was due to be launched in Fall 2012 – approximately six months later!

The idea would be too early for a teaser but Deutsch believed this would be a great statement to make.

However, the VW team was extremely nervous and they went through a further seven rounds of creatives before they made a decision. Finally, they decided to go ahead with the creative which David and Craig had conceived.

David was in New Jersey then when he got the call and was thrilled to bits. He then informed Craig, who had in the meanwhile finished his freelance with Deutsch and moved on. 

At that time, Star Wars was not very popular. It was a part of film history and folklore. Deutsch and VW managed to obtain the rights for using the characters and tune of “Imperial March” composed by John Williams from Lucas Films and the music publisher easily as they liked the idea for the commercial.

For the choice of film director, it was a toss-up between the celebrated Micheal Mills and Lance Accord (who was less famous). However, they loved the treatment which Lance wanted to give and went ahead with him. 

After the film was shot, it went to Jim Haygood, the editor who gave multiple edits for the 30 seconders and one for the 60 seconders. The smaller edits were good but the longer one was fantastic.

Deutsch and VW went back to check if there was a media inventory on Superbowl but there wasn’t any.

One possible way to stand out was to release “The Force” early, even though it defied what was widely accepted as a smart advertising strategy around the biggest ad day of the year. 

So four days before the game, the ad showed up on YouTube. The ad’s creators had no idea how it would be received. it was a controversial decision to run it early, even among the ad agency and VW’s marketing team. It was not the conventional wisdom to air or put online a commercial that was meant for the Super Bowl. The wisdom was you hold it because you would get the most value out of that by waiting.

But in a day or two, “The Force” had been viewed 1.8 million times on YouTube and had racked up 17 million views before kickoff, according to figures provided by Deutsch. Today, “The Force” has 61 million views on YouTube and is still the most shared Super Bowl ad of all time and the second most shared TV commercial ever.

It was a perfect combination: the enduring popularity of Star Wars, childhood nostalgia, touching moments between a father and son, a narrative arc that went tidily from conflict to resolution, and plenty of humour thanks to a 6-year-old dressed as a notorious movie villain.

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