You might remember this Volkswagen Polo ad from the earlier part of the last decade, along with the Star Wars Kid and everything else you saw on eBaumsworld. You might remember it being “banned,” or just that it was an ad that “VW doesn’t want you to see!” But it isn’t that at all.
In case you can’t watch the video above, or you haven’t seen it yet, or you just haven’t been alive for the past 15 years, it basically consists of a man with a kaffiyeh wrapped around his neck getting into a Volkswagen Polo, driving up to a cafe, and then blowing himself up. But the real kicker is that the Polo manages to contain the blast, thus killing only the terrorist, and saving the people at the cafe.
And then we get the tagline:
Polo. Small but tough.
Get it? The Polo is little, but strong, and also terrorism, haha, hilarious.
Anyways, the quicker minds among us can probably surmise why Volkswagen wouldn’t ever make this ad, or, at the very least, why they wouldn’t want anything to do with it. Because most ad teams just want to tell you about how fun the car is, or how practical it is, or how inexpensive it is, but they try to avoid having anything to do with heady matters such as life and death.
So it begs the question of where this ad, one of the Internet’s very first truly “viral” videos, came from. If it didn’t come from Volkswagen itself, it definitely came from somewhere at least semi-professional. The production values were too good to be an amateur work, and the CGI used to create the explosion didn’t exactly come cheap 15 years ago.
Luckily, we share a universe with the lovely people at Snopes, and they found a Guardian article from way back in 2004 that explains it all:
Matt Smith, of the ad agency Viral Factory, said he thought the advert had been made as a “test” in order to get work.
“My suspicion is that it was made for a very small audience in order to get work. It’s such a risky piece — it wasn’t meant to be seen by a mass audience.”
A spokesman for Volkswagen said the company was considering legal action and blamed the advert on “two young creatives who are trying to make a name for themselves”.
The Guardian managed to track down the guys behind the commercial, a pair of young ad executives named Lee Ford and Dan Brooks. They admitted that they had created it “on spec,” in the hopes of landing some advertising business as part of a show reel for big ad executives.
In short, it wasn’t meant to be seen in public. Or, at least, not meant to be shown on TV. Lee and Dan never admitted to releasing the video, and they professed ignorance when asked how it got onto seemingly every single person’s computer in the world.
But it turns out that Lee and Dan actually posted the video on their since-deleted website, according to ad industry website Adland.tv, before taking it down after realizing how quickly it became one of the most popular ads in existence.
The damage was done, however. Volkswagen started making threatening noises about a lawsuit, and they were mad as hell. They didn’t want their brand associated with suicide bombing, even in the slightest. They were going to own Lee and Dan, two guys who had just managed to make a short video for what was, relatively, no money at all.
In the end, though, things turned out okay. Volkswagen agreed not to financially ruin Lee and Dan, as long as they apologized and handed over the original copy. Which they did.
It’s unclear what happened to Lee and Dan after this whole mess, but here’s hoping their misguided attempts to land a gig didn’t end forever. While this ad really isn’t the best thing ever, there is still a place in the world for horrible, perfect car ads.
Just ask Ford.
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