By on June 28, 2009

You know what I loved most about car advertising? There was never a shortage of money to play with. I’m no longer tracking these things, but in 2007, GM spent $3 billion on what we call “measured media” alone. Measured media is defined as television, print and outdoor advertising. The unmeasured expenses, what’s called “below the line,” in the vernacular, are usually just as huge, maybe bigger. Above and below the line, GM must have spent the GDP of Mongolia on advertising.

Volkswagen’s budget resembled the GDP of a much smaller country, but I thoroughly enjoyed helping them to put it to good use.

One of these big ticket “below the line” activities are launch events. A new car gets launched. All dealers must come to see a grand presentation. In the 70s, Volkswagen had more than 10,000 dealers all over Europe. They usually showed up with three or more people. Can’t put them all in a soccer stadium. So we produced events for about 500 people each, and the event ran for about a month. Sometimes two events a day.

Sixty events in a row. A monstrous logistical undertaking. Chartered flights. Masses to be wined, dined, bedded, entertained. There must be test drives. Programs for the ladies. Discrete programs with ladies. Whole hotels booked for a month. The guy who was in charge of booking the hotels never had to pay himself for the presidential suite at any of the large chains. Even long after his retirement. Until the hotels found out that he had left.

A lot of money was also spent on the launch movie to be shown at the event. It was designed to get the hearts of the dealers pumping and to make them order the car by the lotful. The budgets for these launch movies often exceeded the budget for a consumer commercial. After all, a consumer buys only one car. A dealer buys thousands.

It was in early 1978, and my job was to produce the launch movie for the Gen 2 model of the Audi 80, internally called “B2” or “Typ81.” Some of you may know the car as the “Audi 4000.” These movies were similar to pornography, inasmuch they never had much of a script and were geared to get the testosterone going. Lots of moneyshots, little dialog, if any at all. The heavy breathing was supposed to be delivered by the audience.

My script was the usual simplicity: A Jack Baruth lookalike sits alone in a mountainous wilderness. He’s awaiting a super-secret Audi 80, to be delivered for a test drive. A truck brings it under wraps. Tarp removed, Jack admires the car. Sits in it. Then drives it like bent out of hell along the switchbacks of the mountainous roads to the music of the London Symphony. Think “Tail of the Dragon”—but without the cops.

As money was no object, I always had the best producers. I worked with Bernd Schäfers, producer of epics like “Das Boot,” “The NeverEnding Story,” or “The Name of the Rose.” Bernd and I were friends. I lost track of him when he became a fugitive of the law after a large investment deal for the MediaPark in Cologne went sour in the late 90s. If anyone knows his whereabouts, tell Bernd Bertel misses him. Codeword “Bald Eagle.”

To shoot the Audi 80 dealer flick, we took up residence at the Sotogrande Golf Course in Spain, between Gibraltar and Malaga. This was the late 70s, the ghosts of Generalissimo Franco were still haunting the country. The Gibraltar part was a matter of high suspense, a story to be told in the next installment of the Autobiography of BS ©. It was March, golfing season hadn’t started yet, and we rented the whole golf club. It was a gated community with lots of security. Secret cars could be photographed there without a risk of detection. We had used the place a lot before. We called it “Photo Grande.”

As we had rented the whole complex, each of the team members could choose any available villa. The clubhouse served as production headquarters. The only drawback was that, save some guards, the club was deserted of all help. No cooks, no maids. We were on our own. We lived on bocadillas, or sandwiches, and instant coffee, while we slowly converted our individual villas into pigsties: Because there was no cleaning staff, we simply moved from one room to the next when it got too dirty. Once a villa was thoroughly trashed, we changed villas. There were enough to go around.

The team VW had brought in was bigger than our film crew. There were people responsible for the well-being of the two prototypes we had. There was one guy who had spent time in Argentina and could speak Spanish. He was our designated liaison with the natives, which were not there. There was security. And then there was Herr S., second in command of the Promotion Department of Volkswagen, who knew everything about making movies. Or so he said. He always stressed that he knew the difference between an A and a B roll. He probably owned a Super 8 at home.

After two weeks of bocadillas, switching rooms and the occasional villa, we had most of our film “in the can” as the saying went, except for the opening scene. It was a very long shot, taken from the peak of a mountain. The truck with the car under the tarp would come up the mountain pass, out of the rising sun. Sound simple? It wasn’t.

First of all, it amounted to getting up at 3 a.m. We needed to get our stuff together, truck up to the mountain peak, set up the camera with the help of a compass, because it was pitch dark and the GPS hadn’t yet been invented. Miles downrange, the truck had to get in position, and then we had to get ready for the sunrise. Only one sunrise per day. If something goes wrong, you can’t simply say “Sunrise, the fifth!” Next chance next day.

The best thing that could happen was that at 3 a.m. it was raining. Back to bed. If it wasn’t raining, we had to head for the hills. In total darkness, there was no finding out whether there were clouds or not. Up on the frigid mountain we waited for dawn. When dawn broke to a cloudy sky, we packed it in. We did that many times.

Then, there were the little dramas.

There were days with just one little lammie-bah of a tiny cloud in an otherwise beautiful sky. Roll camera. Roll truck. Then, that little sumbitch of a cloud inevitably moves right between the sun and the camera. We wasted a lot of expensive 35mm film on those cute little clouds.

Finally, a day without clouds. Everybody sprang into action. Two miles downrange the truck started its engine. Radios crackled. “What’s that yellow car down there doing?” High powered binoculars focused on a van. We had removed a street sign that had ruined the beautiful scenery and tossed it into the ditch. The little yellow car was a road crew. They recovered the street sign, put it back into its intended place and drove off. In the meantime, the sun had risen. Another day down the drain.

Three weeks and several villas were wasted and we still had no opening scene.

The alarm went off on yet another morning at 3 a.m. No merciful rain was heard on the roof. We had to saddle up and go to the hills. For the umpteenth time, the truck got ready miles down the road. The camera was brought in position on the mountain peak. The street sign was tossed into the ditch. Dawn broke, and Paul Simon would have loved it: Not a cloud was in the sky, not a negative word was heard from the people passing by. Or, in the words of his other hit song: Kodachrome.

The place buzzed with activity.

I said to Bernd: “This is it, we’re finally gonna do it!”

Herr S. nodded furiously.

Bernd took me to the side and mumbled:

“We are out of film.”

“Bernd, this is an old joke. Let’s get going.”

“No joke. We are out of film.”

“Really?”

“I kid you not.”

“But how are we going to explain it to the client? Everything is perfect!”

“Leave it to me,” Bernd said. “I’ll fix it.”

Before sunrise, I needed a drink very badly.

Radios crackled. First rays of the sun probed the cloudless sky.

“Start truck.”

“Started.”

The sky turned purple.

“10. 9. 8. 7. 6.”

“Roll camera!”

“Rolling.”

“4, 3, 2, 1.”

“Action!”

The sun rose over the mountains. Two miles down, the truck came rumbling up the pass.

Suddenly, Bernd jumped in front of the camera waving his skinny arms.

“Cut! Cut! Everybody cut!”

“What’s up Bernd?” I asked.

“The light! The light is awful!”

I looked at Herr S., scared to death.

Herr S. took in the deep blue sky and the crimson fireball burning through the morning haze over the green mountains in southern Spain. Then, with deep conviction, bolstered by his knowledge of A & B rolls, he announced:

“He’s right. The light sucks.”

I still couldn’t get a word out.

Herr S. said: “Bertel, any idiot would think the light is perfect. But if you know something about camera work—as I happen to—you know that this light just won’t do.”

(Did Bernd and Bertel get the film done? Did Herr S. ever find out? Stay tuned for the next episode of the Autobiography of BS ©—and watch the whole crew in a face-off with the feared Guardia Civil.)

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

Recommended

26 Comments on “Editorial: Autobiography of BS ©: How I Nearly Blew the Audi 80 Launch...”


  • avatar
    Nicodemus

    “This was the late 70’s, Franco was still in power”

    Rubbish, there’s no way he could have been in power in 1978. Franco relinquished power in ’73 and died in ’75.

  • avatar
    pista

    I was going to ask about the copyright on “the autobiography of BS” until I read the bit about Franco still being in power.

    You are still making it difficult for reviewers of Rick Wagoner’s upcoming autobiography, though.

  • avatar

    Thanks for sharing these stories, Bertel.

    Since you know where all the waste is, would you also know how to eliminate it? Or would that kill all the fun?

  • avatar

    Nicodemus: You are right. Fixed.

    Michael: The biggest waste in advertising is to hire boring agencies, and to kill every bit of creativity in endless layers of people who can only say no, not yes. The Buick disaster is a perfect example. Advertising needs to be noticed. It needs to make you laugh, cry, get mad. The best advertising is when people talk about it: “Have you seen this ad?”

    Sometimes, the best advertising is born out of a lack of money.

  • avatar
    DrivnEZ

    You have no idea just how much I appreciate the autobiography of BS. BS or not.

    DEZ

  • avatar
    ra_pro

    Bertel,

    Excellent writing to say nothing about the stories. The best writing on this website and miles ahead of RF, no insult intended. And coming from a German (writing in English)…

    I always say Germans do everything well and I don’t even like them (as people).

  • avatar
    MBella

    Way to keep up the suspense Bertel. Another great story.

  • avatar
    WetWilly

    Advertising needs to be noticed.

    Now you mention it, there don’t seem to be very memorable car commercials lately. The most recent memorable one I can think of is the Kia Soul Hamsters ad. Great story, great music, impossibly cute, and it hits the Soul’s “A New Way To Roll” tag perfectly.

    BTW, great story as always.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    “In total darkness, there was no finding out whether there were clouds or not. Up on the frigid mountain we waited for dawn. When dawn broke to a cloudy sky, we packed it in. We did that many times.”

    Bumpy’s Helpful Hints: if you look up at the sky during night and see the Moon and/or stars, that means it’s not cloudy.

  • avatar

    Bumpy’s Helpful Hints: if you look up at the sky during night and see the Moon and/or stars, that means it’s not cloudy.

    Thanks. That trick would have saved us a lot of sleep. Cityslickers ….

  • avatar

    ra_pro: Nothing against my fellow countrypeople, but generally, I don’t like them either. I left when I was 30.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Bertel Schmitt :
    June 28th, 2009 at 12:09 pm

    Michael: The biggest waste in advertising is to hire boring agencies, and to kill every bit of creativity in endless layers of people who can only say no, not yes. The Buick disaster is a perfect example. Advertising needs to be noticed. It needs to make you laugh, cry, get mad. The best advertising is when people talk about it: “Have you seen this ad?”

    That’s an age-old argument, and as pertains cars, I think the truth of it depends on the product and the niche. If all it took to sell cars was distinctive, memorable advertising, then Isuzu would still be in business in the States, and VW would rule the world.

    For better or worse, cars are a rational purchase for most buyers, and they buy rational vehicles. For most vehicles, advertising needs to be more informative than edgy. For example, can you imagine an edgy ad for, say, a Toyota Camry? For that matter, can you remember ANY ad for that car? And, yet, it’s the best selling car in the country.

    Luxury cars tend to be less rational purchases (let’s face it – spending $60K on an upscale sedan isn’t rational when a $20K Camry will perform the same task), so their ads tend to be less informative and more ego-driven.

    Witness the Lexus ad that shows the yuppie driver manipulating traffic with his nav system. Or the Infiniti ad where the car creates a spash that becomes the stars. Yeah, whatever, guys…

  • avatar

    FreedMike:

    I was asked about where the waste in advertising is, not what sells cars. In fact, advertising plays only a small part in car sales. To get great sales, you need a great product, great distribution, great service, great quality, great customer satisfaction, great resale value, and many other greats. I don’t buy into the “rational” versus “emotional” story. A car purchase of any kind is a mix of both. We always had this picture of an angel and a devil sitting on the shoulders of the customer, whispering their version into the customer’s ears. If the devil had a good argument, the customer turns to the angel and shouts: “Shut up!”

  • avatar
    ajla

    For example, can you imagine an edgy ad for, say, a Toyota Camry? For that matter, can you remember ANY ad for that car?

    The ad where the guy calls his blind date. He tells her that is at her building, and in the silver Camry. The lady looks out the window and claims that she doesn’t see any Camry outside. Guy eventually get mad and drives away, girl then remarks “Oh nice car!” as she notices the Toyota badges. The message is the new Camry is so stylish that people won’t recognize it. Maybe not an “edgy” ad, but not exactly choked full of relevant information either.

    And Toyota did have those commercials where the salesmen accidently gets maced after selling a Camry. Those were kind of edgy, but they dealt more with a sales event than the car itself.

  • avatar
    Davekaybsc

    Speaking of Audi, I think their ads have been some of the best lately. “Meet The Beckers” especially was brilliant, as was the ad with Statham driving the ’70s Benz, ’80s BMW, not even considering the ’90s Lexus, and then jumping into the brand new A6 3.0T at the end.

    BMW’s xDrive ads from a few years ago were pretty clever, but their whole “company of ideas” thing was flat out CRAP.

    I can’t remember a single memorable M-B ad since the “falling in love again” spots from several years back. I also can’t remember a single memorable M-B product since then, so maybe that has something to do with it.

  • avatar
    pista

    The Polo terrorist viral advert a couple of years back was both cheeky and cute. Apparently, VW survived BS.

  • avatar

    The best ~’ads’ I’ve seen were the BMW Films with Clive Owen, et al and probably VW’s ‘UnPimp Zuh Auto’ with Peter Stormare.

  • avatar
    ZoomZoom

    The only thing not creepy about the “Unpimp” ads was that girl’s long legs. The rest of it was .. just icky.

  • avatar
    PeteMoran

    @ BS

    A great read – thanks.

    Did you ever have anything to do with the mad men in Ingolstadt Ur-Quattro rally motorsport, or was that after your time?

  • avatar
    yankinwaoz

    In total darkness, there was no finding out whether there were clouds or not.

    You are kidding, no? If you can’t see the stars, then there are clouds. Pretty simple really.

  • avatar

    Did you ever have anything to do with the mad men in Ingolstadt Ur-Quattro rally motorsport, or was that after your time?

    Did I ever. I saw my first Quattro 1978 in the design studio in Ingolstadt. Nosy BS opened the door – and ripped the two trim strips off, which a designer had just carefully applied to the whole car. Herr Treser himself ripped me a new orifice.

    1984, I came back from the USA to manage the whole agency. My car was an innocuous looking Audi 100 (Audi 5000 in the US) with all the chrome and insignia removed. At the inside, it was a Quattro with the racing engine. It was fun creeping up pn Porsches in an Audi 100 on the Autobahn. Put your high beams on and blast by them – especially when the road was wet. Wet roads always made Porsches wag their tails a bit.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Bertel Schmitt :
    June 28th, 2009 at 3:59 pm

    FreedMike:

    I was asked about where the waste in advertising is, not what sells cars. In fact, advertising plays only a small part in car sales. To get great sales, you need a great product, great distribution, great service, great quality, great customer satisfaction, great resale value, and many other greats. I don’t buy into the “rational” versus “emotional” story. A car purchase of any kind is a mix of both. We always had this picture of an angel and a devil sitting on the shoulders of the customer, whispering their version into the customer’s ears. If the devil had a good argument, the customer turns to the angel and shouts: “Shut up!”

    True dat…:)

    But at the same time, I’d say that the amount of “rationality” in a car purchase is almost directly inverse to the car’s price and style niche.

    Audi advertising would have to be less “rational” – i.e., less concerned with the practicality and usability of the vehicle – and more focused on massaging the potential buyer’s ego. Let’s face it, anyone who’s buying an Audi is most likely buying a more expensive VW, so rationality isn’t what you WANT to sell, lest the buyer figure it out and spend twenty large less.

    By the way, speaking of the 4000, the car led to the first of many vehicular run-ins with my parents. They were test driving one for my mom, and while they were returning it to the dealership, I snuck my dad’s pride-and-joy BMW 730 out for a little test drive of my own. Who cared if I was only 15?

    Long story short, as I was blasting down the road we lived on (speed limit 35; my speed, at least 60), sunroof and windows open, blasting Donna Summer on the stereo (no laughing, please), who should I find coming down the road on the other side? Yep, Mom and Dad in the 4000…they’d forgotten Dad’s wallet.

    Let’s just say the 730 had really good brakes for the pre-ABS era.

    They passed on the 4000, and my dad eventually traded the 730 for a 5000, which may have been the worst trade since the Oilers gave up Gretzky. The 5000 was a fine handling car, but it was an EPIC dog – you had to turn off the A/C to pass another car on a back road. That turned me off to Audis for years, but if they put that badass new 3.0 from the A6 into the A4, my interest might be piqued.

  • avatar

    Pista:

    The Polo terrorist viral advert a couple of years back was both cheeky and cute.

    Officially, VW had nothing to do with that ad, even threatened to sue its creators, only to say then that they cannot locate them to serve the complaint. A little later, VW settled for an apology by the creators. That was in the UK.

    At the same time, Volkswagen fired its old ad agency in the US, and signed on Crispin Porter + Bogusky, well known for their viral campaigns …

  • avatar
    Davekaybsc

    @FreedMike

    “if they put that badass new 3.0 from the A6 into the A4, my interest might be piqued.”

    They have – it’s called the S4. The A4 3.2 is dead for 2010, so there will be the A4 2.0T and the S4, which will now directly compete with the 335i. It shows just how far Motorsport and AMG have moved the power game on, it used to be the S4 vs. the M3 and the C43/32/55 AMG. Now the RS4 has to battle those cars.

  • avatar

    I think if there’s one car I’d like to drive before I die, it would be Herr Schmitt’s Nachtjager Audi 100.

    Another great article, and thank you for the tip of the hat. I enjoyed the Seventies so much I’m re-creating them.

  • avatar
    KramerJAN19

    To be honest, it is truly tough to compose good quality academic papers without going for paper writing services. Each student realizes that generating of academic paper needs thorough knowledge in the necessary area of study, thus grads would sooner buy custom writing.

Read all comments

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • SCE to AUX: Good, brief article on “Five Nines” as it relates to safety: https://www.eetimes.com/is-...
  • tankinbeans: A large misgiving of mine is the mechanics behind how the system works and losing track of what does...
  • Lou_BC: “left utopia” A utopia is by definition….? “place or state of things in which...
  • statikboy: Exactly. The technology is *designed* to fill in the gaps for “perpetually inattentive...
  • Lou_BC: That’s like asking the fox if the hens in the coop need a thicker gauge of chicken wire!

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Matthew Guy
  • Timothy Cain
  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Chris Tonn
  • Corey Lewis
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber