Al Navarro is a co-founder of Mint Advertising, an independent advertising agency in New Jersey. He also drives a Caterham Superlight R, so don't front.
If I called a random American and asked them to name a famous advertising agency, chances are they couldn't. Or perhaps they'd say Sterling Cooper or some other fictionalized institution. It's just not how things work. While people sometimes remember and talk about ads and advertisers around the water cooler, the agencies who create the spots themselves hardly ever become household names. Unless of course, you live in a home where someone works in the business.
But even in these households, some agencies have managed carve out reputations head and shoulders above the rest. One of the stars of recent years (and award shows) is Crispin Porter + Bogusky. You know them from the original US Mini (BMW) work. For VW's "Unpimp Mein Auto". For those Burger King ads with the eerily mute King. And they're the folks behind the above VW commercial from this past summer.
Here's my comment from back when this originally aired:
"Post Dragon, I am finally get [sic] back to watching TV...saw this and at first thought, wow, why did they use that shot of the VW logo for a trailer? Then the VW end part came on, and I was like 'Oh, that's why...it's not a trailer. It's a VW spot.' I don't know if I like it or hate it yet."
Well, I've finally come to a decision on that last point.
Given the production schedule of movies, I'm sure the VW placement deal was inked well before the crew at CP+B developed the "Safe Happens" campaign.
So the team had to somehow plug the Touareg's placement in the movie, with bonus points for making the spot feel like it came from the same place as the other "Safe Happens" work. Or not.
Ironically, the "or not" way is well represented by a previous effort by VW to tie the Touareg in with a film: Peter Jackson's take on King Kong. This was spearheaded by VW's German agency, not CP+B.
What is really interesting about this spot is that 90% of it doesn't feel like a car commercial. And that's a good and rare thing.
Now, before my Shell-Ferrari detractors start penning "Al likes mini-movies disguised as commercials." comments, think about the following: People pay to see movies. They rarely pay to see commercials. So leveraging any cinematic virtues for a commercial can't be all bad.
In the case of this Touareg 2 spot, the creative team seems to have taken this idea all the way. Instead of shooting tons of new footage, they let the action sequence speak for itself. And since they had the "Safe Happens" thing going already, it was okay for the hero vehicle to get a little banged up.
I haven't seen the film (DVD not out as of this writing), but it looks like they may have only shot one additional scene, if that. Sure the entire commercial is a bait and switch (looks like a trailer, but isn't), but the hook at the end isn't painful. In fact, I applaud CP+B and VW for trying something different.
Before I knew this was actually a commercial for VW and not the Bourne Ultimatum, I felt that the close ups of the VW logo on the grill and steering wheel were out of place in a movie trailer. Shameless placement, I thought. But when I got to the end of the spot, even the first time around (on live TV, not the web), I thought "oh, that's why...smart". I fell for the bait, but didn't get pissed off at the switch.
The quick cutting and close-ups are right in line with the Bourne franchise look and feel, and about par for trailers in general. And the announcer VO (voice over) is very "summer blockbuster"...preserving the illusion that it's merely a movie trailer.
When it cuts to the only OC (on camera dialog), where the Touareg driver delivers the "Holy [S*fe]" line, the scene matches well enough (it may have even been shot at the same time as the film for all I know). Then the rest of the spot ends in silence, in the style of other VW "Safe Happens" commercials: Using slates (type on a colored background) to communicate the rest of the information.
Let the record show that I generally take a very dim view of product placement in movies. Especially clunky overt placements, unless of course it's something like the Transformers. My most hated product placement to date is Omega's renting of the James Bond franchise. That back and forth between Daniel Craig and Eva Green on the train in the Casino Royale is almost as clunky as the dialog from the Ford Escape Hybrid spot.
The creatives at CP+B and the VW client made all the right calls on this one. They understood that people like to watch trailers, especially action trailers. So why not just give the people what they want? The fact that the Touareg 2 is virtually indistinguishable from the Touareg 1 doesn't matter. That it seems to have protected its driver from a bad accident matters just a bit more. That it's in a new movie that looks like a good time — this is what really matters. And really, isn't that the whole point of product placement?
On the "Hate/Not Terrible/Good/Shell-Ferrari" Scale: Good
Previously on Al Navarro Does Detroit:
Episode One: Al Navarro Does Detroit: What Kind of Commercial Does Three-and-a-Half Enzos Buy You?
Episode Two: Al Navarro Does Detroit: Ford to Tears