Did VW Go Too Far?
In 2006-2007, did Volkswagen go too far? Why or why not?
Not at all. When weighing the pros and cons of the Safe Happens advertising campaign, I immediately thought back to an undergraduate course about the Slice of Life advertising approach. As Volkswagen claims, the commercials were shot using real footage of high impact car collisions using stunt actors (Farhi). Looking at the ads through a consumer lens, I immediately experience the shock factor at the moment of each car collision. So, who exactly is Volkswagen marketing to? Everyone?
If we consider the demographic of consumers for the Volkswagen Jetta, we might estimate our target audience as male and female, ages 24-35 (maybe 24-29). We should also consider who created the Volkswagen ads: Crispin Porter + Bogusky. I vividly remember when these ads first appeared, in part because I had just took a first-hand tour of the CP+ B office in Boulder, CO. All egos aside (because there were a few) CP+B was coming off a world-class high after two mammoth years of advertising success. You might recall the creepy Burger King ads with the ominous King and his plastic mug, surprising people with burgers in bed. My point is that we see a connection here: CP+B advertising to a young demographic and to the extremist youth. Volkswagen was yet another example of their youth-targeted advertising ploy.
In the case of Volkswagen, the shock factor and Slice of Life approach broke the barrier of car advertising by making a statement for a rather soft topic: safety. Consider Volkswagen’s then-competitors: Toyota Camry, Honda Accord; and also the higher-end competition: Cooper Mini and (maybe) the Volvo S40. What do all of these competitors have in common? A priority on marketing safety as part of consumer value.
The Safe Happens campaign achieves two elements combined to brilliantly engage the viewer with an intense emotional impact: depicting Slice of Life scenarios (accidents) in order to promote safety as a primary selling point. All the while, the assortment of actors in the ads are within the 24-29 age group.
How do you grab the attention of your demographic, to a car that has otherwise not been exactly thought of as safety-first? You smack the viewer with an unexpected, extreme user experience that demands another look. These ads literally put the viewer in harm’s way to create a convincing and compelling stand: that the Volkswagen Jetta, despite its modest size, is not only efficient, practical and fun, but incredibly safe.
Batra, Rajeev and Morris B. Holbrook. Assessing the Roles of Emotions as Mediators of Consumer Responses to Advertising. Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 14, No. 3. The University of Chicago Press, Dec 1987. pp. 404-420. JSTOR: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2489501?origin=JSTOR-pdf
Crispin Porter + Bogusky. Wake Up With The King. 19 Feb 2006. YouTube. Accessed: 20 Feb 2013. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x4_5qoy4oaQ
Farhi, Paul. Ad Shatters A TV Taboo Head-On. Washington Post. 10 May 2006. Accessed: 20 Feb 2013. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/05/09/AR2006050901915.html