By on June 29, 2011

Every advertiser faces a basic choice at the outset of a campaign: come up with unique, relatable imagery for ads, or riff on an established cultural meme. Volkswagen went the latter route with its “Darth Vader” Super Bowl ad, achieving huge success: it was the most popular auto-related ad of the Super Bowl, and the Youtube version has received over 40 million views. The only problem with appropriating such popular imagery: you don’t enjoy unique rights to it, meaning you can be easily hoisted by your own petard. Which is exactly what’s happened here to Volkswagen. Greenpeace is angry that VW opposed a bid to bump the EU’s 2020 emissions goal from the agreed-upon 20% to 30% of 1990 levels (even though C02 emissions improved 3.7% last year and 5.1% in 2009, and average emissions are on track to hit the 130g/km 2015 goal ahead of schedule). As a result, they’ve turned VW’s hugely popular “Darth Vader” ad on its head, identifying the giant automaker with the evil Lord Vader, and encouraging fans to “join the rebellion.”

VW’s response?

It is the goal of the Volkswagen Group to be the industry leader in innovation and in the environmental performance of the company and its products… The Volkswagen Group is spearheading technology among the world’s volume carmakers.

So, is the charge fair? According to data obtained by The Independent, VW’s average emissions were the worst of major manufacturers in the European market (as of 2009). That certainly doesn’t help VW’s new image issue, although it’s not clear where popular sentiment falls on this specific debate, namely whether to cut 2020 average emissions by 20% of 1990 levels or 30%. Still, the appropriation of VW’s appropriated imagery certainly hits the automaker where it hurts, especially in the US where VW has a smaller lineup and a better reputation for energy efficiency. Perhaps next time VW’s advertisers will look to a more original concept for its next big global ad…

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26 Comments on “Truth Versus Advertising: The Dark Side Of The Force Edition...”

  • avatar

    Greenpeace, mainly a bunk of cranks, has put out a blatantly false ad. VW is not opposed to cuts in emissions, they have agreed to 20%, just not 30%. Many other businesses agree with them – they are just an easy target.
    I always preferred the Empire in the films, so I must side with VW on this one!

    • 0 avatar

      The Empire did give us one of the best flight sim games ever made, so they can’t be all bad.

    • 0 avatar

      “Greenpeace, mainly a bunk of cranks, has put out a blatantly false ad”

      Greenpeace has absolutely no credibility in my opinion. They don’t ever actually DO anything beyond just carry out public shaming performance art based on faulty calculations and incorrect assumptions. They are essentially PETA, only with an even more vague agenda.

      They peaked around the time the Rainbow Warrior was sunk by the French, and have just eroded into a bunch of whiners ever since.

  • avatar

    God I love that ad. As an avid VW opposer I was wanting to do somethign similar myself, but I have neither the resources or skills. :) Now toss in a few old Ford Millenium Falcons to shoot down the Golf Tie-fighters ;)

  • avatar

    Is it okay to find both VW and Greenpeace ads equally manipulative and pathetic?

  • avatar

    That ad made me want to buy a VW.

  • avatar

    As a pinko liberal commie GTI driver, one that prefers Boba Fett and Vader to Mark Hamill et al, I will make sure to keep my car down-shifted and rev unnecessarily when I invariably pass the legion of 3-ton MILF-transporters lurking in the passing lane, on the commute home this evening.

  • avatar

    Well, sure, Greenpeace is being hyperbolic and inflamatory, but VW’s response assumes we’re all fools. In no way, shape or form is VW anywhere near the front of environmental engineering on cars, and responding with defensive corporate-speak about ‘innovation’ and ‘leadership’ when you’re the industry laggard is just silly.

    The VW Group has for years provoked a lot of ire among environmentalists by talking ‘green’ and then spending engineering resources on things like the RS6 Estate. Fat and powerful is no way to go about improving fuel consumption or emissions (light and powerful, well, sign me up). BMW is similarly digging a hole for itself talking up Efficient Dynamics and then introducing lardy re-treads like the new 6 series. Or M series SUVs.

    • 0 avatar

      OTOH sales are pretty good. If being at the leading edge of the environmental movement translated into sales then all the manufacturers would be there.

      It’s quite obvious that when the rubber hits the road people aren’t voting for the most “green” vehicle except for a small minority. Nevertheless carry on with the smug patrol.

      BTW, it’s still a brilliant ad.

  • avatar

    “It is the goal of the Volkswagen Group to be the industry leader in innovation and in the environmental performance of the company and its products… The Volkswagen Group is spearheading technology among the world’s volume carmakers.”

    Not exactly “The Empire Strikes Back.” Is it?

  • avatar

    Just for the hell of it, I found a 2008 test of the RS6… apparently the driver before them managed all of 11 mpg – and that’s with the bigger UK gallon. Products like that are what provoke all kinds of environmentalists into action, not just the kind that make annoying ads.

    • 0 avatar

      How many of those halo cars are sold? How many accumulate serious miles? Where in the UK could you drive it approaching the performance levels in various reviews? The effect of all the RS6s on corporate fuel efficiency would hardly be a tremor in The Force.

      In the US I think it is still possible to find a few previous generation RS6s that have accumulated Porsche levels of annual mileage and others that are under 10K miles per year. Toys.

  • avatar
    John R

    While we’re on the subject, does anyone want to part with a droid that understands the binary language of Passats? Mine has a broken taillight and its not the bulb.

  • avatar

    A VW Death Star?

    So all the rebels will need to do to destroy it is make sure the Empire misses an oil change and fail to use “top tier” gas?

  • avatar

    VW & BMW build useless gashogs and VW has never led vehicle technology developments they trail behind everyone else

  • avatar


    “VW – Inciting hatred from self-described commie pinko individuals worldwide for over 70 years…”

  • avatar

    Meh. There is no such thing as bad press. If anything, raising the ire of the whackos at Greenpeace is probably good for business.

  • avatar

    I was wondering how long Lucasfilm was going to let that Greenpeace film remain on Youtube. VW paid millions for the rights to the characters and the music in the original ad — Greenpeace simply stole it.

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