A close up shows the trunk and badging on a silver 2021 Volkswagen Passat after leaving an Akron VW dealership.

Volkswagen Commercials: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

It’s the season finale of your favorite show. You’re sitting on the couch, and just as the show is getting good, then boom––commercials. Some people use this opportunity to grab a snack, refill their drink, or use the restroom. Others, like myself, are drawn to these commercials. Not exactly because of the advertising, but what these commercials ultimately represent.

After all, manufacturers are like any other company, and commercials are par for the course to give your product the limelight. Whether it’s a Superbowl, a daytime program, or in the middle of a movie, there’s a strong chance you’ll see a commercial about a vehicle or its manufacturer. Whether it’s trying to sell you on a vehicle, or perhaps it’s simply getting you to visit your local Volkswagen dealer, commercials are an inevitability, and sometimes, they can be spectacular.

Now, when I say something is “spectacular,” it doesn’t always shed a positive light on what I’m discussing. Commercials can be funny, lighthearted, or even convey a deeper message, but sometimes, commercials can be flat-out ridiculous, poorly acted, and written like a ten-year-old who just learned what the word “comedy” means. Ultimately, however, I’m not looking to discuss these commercials in incredible detail, but I’d like to shine a light on how Volkswagen saw the need to advertise particular vehicles in its lineup. Sometimes, a commercial can be everything the manufacturer needs it to be, but other times you see a commercial and you immediately ask yourself: “who is this for?”

Mini Darth Vader

Alright, if there’s one thing that conglomerates love doing, it’s pop-culture references that will appeal to all age groups, both the young and the old and frail. What better way to do this than to take the easy way out by licensing a 60-second TV spot that focuses more on the joke it’s trying to make than the product it’s pushing. Take this commercial, for example. In 2011, Volkswagen was gearing up to sell the 2012 Passat, and while it’s an excellent sedan, did it need an entire minute dedicated to some child dressed as Darth Vader trying to make his dog and his mom’s elliptical bend to his will? Imagination can be a strong force, but it leaves this commercial with a lot of fluff, and you wouldn’t even know it’s for a Volkswagen vehicle until halfway through the runtime.

Sure, the 2012 Passat was certainly impressive, what with its available turbodiesel engine or 3.6L V6, but they could have done something more creative than using George Lucas’ most prominent character. The commercial is supposed to be lighthearted, but the joke ultimately comes down to this father getting home from work, and his son (tiny Darth Vader) doesn’t want to see him but instead wants to see the new 2012 Passat. After a day of unsuccessfully using the force to bend reality to his will, the father pranks him and remotely turns on the vehicle to make him feel like he’s Darth Vader. Funny, yes. Lighthearted? Definitely. Does it make me want a Passat? Well, if I didn’t want one before watching the commercial, then it’s nothing more than a quick way to pass a minute during the Super Bowl.

With that said, the commercial was wildly successful, and I can see why––it’s better than most commercials that exist today. And, if I found a good deal on a 2012 Passat and I was in the market for such a thing, I wouldn’t see a reason not to buy it. And, mostly due to its decades-long time on the market, the Passat is still going strong, with new models released annually. I’d like to think this cheesy Super Bowl commercial had a hand in it.

The Town Idiot

This commercial is interesting. I’ve known some oblivious people, but I think this is a tad extreme. If the idea of this commercial was to promote advanced safety features, then how about you take the time to focus on those features and not so much on the daily routine of this ‘village idiot’ type of person. Advanced safety features are important, and in the case of features such as Front Assist with Pedestrian Monitoring, this commercial, at the least, sets out what it’s supposed to convey. Simply put, if someone is crossing the street unaware of their surroundings, there’s a higher chance that your Volkswagen vehicle will detect this person and bring the vehicle to a complete stop.

With that said, couldn’t the commercial have been something along the lines of an oblivious person answering the phone and accidentally crossing the street? Instead, this commercial focuses on this one guy as he wakes up, leaves his apartment, and simply walks around town, causing subtle destruction in his wake for nearly a whole minute before the Volkswagen vehicle shows up. Perhaps you’re noticing a trend that I feel commercials should spend less time on building up their story and more time trying to convey the true usefulness of the product like the last fifteen-or-so seconds of the commercial suggests. Regardless, it does convey its message, and it’s that your vehicle will prevent more of those common accidents. If you ask me, for all of its faults, this is advertising done right.

I’ll Take Two!

This is advertising done right, and wouldn’t you know it, it’s from a licensing agreement with Volkswagen’s old friends at Star Wars. What makes this commercial so much more successful in my eyes than the previous one we discussed? The Volkswagen ID. Buzz is an electric car, and if there’s one thing that your average nerd would link electric smart cars to, it’s droids. I love droids, and I’m sure that somewhere along the lines in your viewing of the Skywalker Saga, you might have formed a love for these little robots too. So, if Volkswagen is trying to convey that their ID. Buzz is truly electric, they did something brilliant and created a commercial that takes place within the Star Wars universe.

Yes, this can still be considered utterly cheesy. But, using the familiar likes of R2-D2 and C3-PO was a stroke of genius, as their curiosity about this unfamiliar “droid” and the dialogue is what I consider to be the best part of the commercial. Regardless of what the manufacturer is plugging, I have to give credit to both the creativity behind this ad and the hard work that went into animating everything. Surely it must have been easier than filming some child cosplaying as Darth Vader running around a house. This commercial uses pop culture just right, and thanks to it, it’d be the first thing I think of if I were to ever buy a Volkswagen ID. Buzz for myself.

The name of the game with the ID. Buzz is an electric powertrain nestled inside of an adventure-filled automobile. It’s been said by Volkswagen and most people who have seen the ID. Buzz, but it almost looks like the grille is smiling. How could you hate a friendly face? Okay, that doesn’t give any details into how this vehicle will truly perform, but there’s already official confirmation of its specs. Of course, America will be waiting a little longer for the ID. Buzz, but I’m certainly looking forward to its 201 hp and 229 lb-ft of torque with a mileage range of 275 miles on a single charge. Sounds like the future, and with that said, the Star Wars crossover truly makes sense.

The Marketing Age

As you can see, there are tons of ways to market a product, and Volkswagen has certainly tried a few different ones over the years to varying levels of success. I think that the implementation of popular culture does at least catch the attention of anyone watching, but overall, it has to still portray the product prominently and give the viewer an overall reason to want to buy it, not just give a nod to a favorite character, in order to be a successful commercial. Where will the commercials go from here? Well, I guess we will all have to watch and see what Volkswagen comes up with next.