Some car companies produce TV commercials that are targeted at your left brain. They hit you with stats and prices and lots of dry information. Some TV ads cater to entirely to your right brain. They seduce you with music, action and Jill Wagner (what car does she sell again?). And some TV ads try to mix a little bit of both at the same time. And then there are Volkswagen’s ads, which are no-brainers. And I don’t mean that in a good way.
The current marketing slogan used in VW’s commercials: “Sign THEN Drive.” This strap line assumes that you, the viewer and potential car buyer, must be told to execute a car purchase in the following sequential order: 1) sign the papers; and 2) THEN drive off in your new VW. They even helpfully put the word “THEN” in all caps just in case you miss it. Without VW’s instructions, who knows what might happen?
The ad shows us. A clean-cut, 20-something Caucasian male approaches a group of dreaded and hated lawyers (ipso facto). The not-the-Apple-Mac-guy (‘cause he’s busy) informs us that VW is “testing for the new Volkswagen Sign And Drive event.”
As he approaches the testing site, milquetoast man looks in horror at the multitude of putative VW buyers desperately trying to sign paperwork and drive VWs at the same time. The drivers swerve madly, running over cones and barely avoiding the other three drivers in a huge open area. One of the lawyers whispers into Joe VW’s ear, then he looks at us, mildly shakes his head (“How could we have overestimated our buyers’ intelligence!”). He makes a small notation and tells us that VW is now running the “Sign THEN Drive” event. “Even better!” he assures us.
Never mind that today’s cars offer a multitude of distractions deadlier than trying to sign a piece of paper while driving. Like any other manufacturer, VW offers plenty of potentially lethal electronic asides in their cars. But apparently, VW does not think its models’ buyers are capable of signing their names and driving their cars at the same time. (God forbid you throw chewing gum into the mix.) Such an arduous task will surely send the VW driver careening into a ditch.
The commercial reflects poorly on VW’s collective (if fictional) intelligence. Did VW really need to “test” for a marketing event? And if the resulting mayhem was so surprising, what does that say about VW’s marketing data and strategy (we had no idea that selling our cars for zero money down would attract paradigms of Darwin’s theory)?
A second VW “Sign THEN Drive” commercial is even worse. It shows a typical 20-something yuppie couple– Asian-American female with a Caucasian male, ‘natch– approaching a pristine white VW. [BTW: ALL of the cars in these VW commercials are white. I don’t know what that means, but I don’t like it. Is BMW designer Chris Bangle “Axis of White Power” secretly behind this?] The male is proudly showing off the automotive apple of his eye to his female companion.
But as they get closer, the VW honks several times in defense. The couple backs away, then tries again. Again, the VW objects loudly. The female turns to the male and whispers fearfully, “What’s happening?” The guy stands there looking absolutely dumbstruck and flummoxed.
Cut to a smiling African-American male (VW commercials are nothing if not racially diverse) standing high above the confused couple, next to another Joe VW salesman. He is gleefully playing with the remote horn button on his keyless fob, toying with the challenged couple below. Joe VW offers to put the confounded couple out of their misery, but VeeDub buyer declines, his schadenfreude spreading by the second (with no fahrvergnugen in sight).
Again, we have a couple of clueless VW buyers who apparently have never heard a car honk before, have no idea that a remote fob contains an alarm button (my 1998 Civic had one, for crissakes) and have mental capacities slightly lower than the chicken I ate last night. Meanwhile, we get introduced to a new type of VW buyer, the Sadist. The Sadist delights in using his new VW to mock and ridicule lower life forms. He stands up high, looking down at the little people, flexing his superior (average) intelligence. And Joe VW, in both commercials, looks on helplessly.
Neither of these commercials tells me anything about VW cars or why I would want one. The humor is crass, insulting, and juvenile. Along with VW’s recent spate of commercials that show VW drivers constantly getting into accidents, VW seems to have an extremely low opinion of its buyers. Then again, given VW’s poor reliability, high cost of maintenance and repair, and high price points, maybe VW knows exactly what it's doing.