VW's "Drivers wanted" is Dead. But Jetta Drivers Aren't in New Ads.

You can pretty much take this to the bank. Though VW executives have been hedging, Volkswagen's ten year-old

You can pretty much take this to the bank. Though VW executives have been hedging, Volkswagen’s ten year-old “Drivers wanted” tagline is dead. The new GTI work from new ad agency Crispin Porter +Bogusky, Miami didn’t carry it. And neither does the new Jetta ad campaign. And when pressed at last week’s New York Auto show, insiders said there’s no intention of using the line in any ads this year.

The GTI campaign, the reception of which has been somewhat polarized, just gave way to an effort for Jetta that plays up the car’s best-in-industry side impact crash rating. This campaign is startling, featuring real-time crashes that put the side-crash to the test. In one ad, four twenty-somethings are driving after they’ve seen a movie. The group is talking over whether the two men in the car cried at the ending. As the driver begins pulling out into an intersection, the car gets creamed from the side. No slow motion. Just a wickedly unexpected and realistic devastating crash. The ad cuts to the four people standing outside the car, grasping for breath and realizing how lucky they are.

The other ad shows two guys, one white and the other African-American (an unintended homage to the da-da-da boys in one of Arnold Worldwide’s most celebrated VW ads?), yacking it up, the one chastising the other about how much he uses the word “like” in conversation. He’s not watching ahead, and WHAMMO!, the car is hit from the side.

I also like the gimmick in these ads of the crash survivors looking over the accident afterward and starting to say, “Holy S….,” but the scene quickly cuts away to the sales pitch before the whole phrase comes out of a picture of a Jetta with a headline that says, “Safe Happens,” along with the Jettas’s five-star side-impact crash rating. That is also an element of the ad bound to cause some chatter in the public square. My stopwatch is ticking on how long it takes a religious group to issue a press release about how offended they are that VW and Crispin launched ads that play off the colloquialism, “Holy Shit,” on Easter weekend.

“We wanted to show the car’s safety in a way that was fresh and captured some of what’s important about the VW brand,” says creative director on the VW business at Crispin Porter+Bogusky Andrew Keller. Whereas Volvo, for example, and other companies often focus on the protection of children in ads, Keller says the two TV ads that just broke involve friends in the car. “The Jetta has been about hanging with friends and Jetta owners tell us that hanging with friends is extremely important to them.” Keller says he thought the ad would resonate better if the scene was about protecting your friends with a safe car.

Except for Volvo, safety doesn’t often factor into the reasons why people buy certain cars. But VW and Crispin are firing on all cylinders trying to reverse a slide in VW’s sales and image. I think these ads are terrific for one big reason. If your attention fades during a commercial break, as it often does, the impact of the crash, and the surprise of it, works well to jolt your attention back to the screen. The next time the ad is on, I would bet, that person who didn’t quite get all the ad the first time is going to tune in and pay closer attention.

VW and Crispin have been chattered about for more than a month over the new campaign for the GTI. Billboards that read “Unpimp Mein Auto,” “Auf wiedersehen, sucka,” and TV ads that, in one case, had a guy refusing to roll up the window and told her to stop “yackin’” because he wanted to hear the growl of the engine, have drawn praise and brickbats and very little indifference.

And that’s the point. VW has been working on fixing the quality problems that hassled its owners and tanked its sales the last three years. But it has to get people talking about its cars and brand again the way they did in the late 1990s when it launched the New Beetle and had industry leading advertising.

The GTI ad campaign is but one piece of the evolving Volkswagen brand image. That work embodies the notion that driving Volkswagens is still a more fun experience than driving most Asian or U.S. cars, and that German engineering still matters.

The new Jetta spots do as good a job as I have seen in getting a very rational safety message across in an engaging and compelling way.

Everyone seems to be talking about the need to create advertising that rises to the level of entertainment to stop the incessant ad zappers and TiVo happy TV watchers. I’d say that the first work out of Crispin on these two models qualifies.

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