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The force behind VW’s Super Bowl ads

Kai Ryssdal Jan 31, 2012

Kai Ryssdal: There’s a big football game this Sunday, Super Bowl XLV… whatever it is. Forty-six, I think. Giants-Patriots, as you know. But we all know all the hoopla’s not really about the game. It’s about the ads. The millions and millions and millions of dollars worth of ads. And if that’s your measure, the clear winner of last year’s game was this [watch the video to your left].

Mark Hunter: The little kid is wandering around his house and he is dressed in a little Darth Vader costume. But he’s obviously powerless because he’s just a little boy. And then his father comes home driving a new Passat, and he rushes past his dad to get out and use his force. We then see in the kitchen, the father uses his key fob that allows you to start your car remotely.

Ryssdal: And of course, the kid jumped out of his skin, if you remember that ad. That guy talking was Mark Hunter, he’s the chief creative officer at Deutsch L.A., the ad agency that came up with that VW ad. Earlier this week, I went to meet Mark at his office to see what they got cooked up for this year.

Hunter: Things have changed in Super Bowl advertising. It used to be about a kind of one time sort of hit for 30 seconds or 60 seconds in the middle of the show. And increasingly we’re trying to create a sort of two-week buzz over a 60-second piece of communication.

Ryssdal: Right, which is no mean feat. So here we are. We’re going to see the ad.

Hunter: You’re going to see the ad.

Ryssdal: And then I want to talk through the process of how you follow up, what was the ad coming out of the Super Bowl, which is the ad event of the past year. OK?

Hunter: Fantastic.

Ryssdal: So let’s hit what we got.

Hunter: So this was a teaser that we released and in a way this was the opening salvo of the 2012 Super Bowl Olympic ad war.


Ryssdal: I just got it. Back and better than ever — 2, 5, 12. That was awesome. It takes you a minute to realize that they’e doing the Darth Vader theme. Right? Dun-dun-dun-dun. But that’s great.

Hunter: It does. We’ve come to, when we show it now, we tend not to look at the screen, we look at people’s faces. And there is that moment of recognition about seven seconds in.

Ryssdal: Oh yeah, totally. Now the premise of having a teaser for an ad campaign. Aren’t ad campaigns in and of themselves teasers?

Hunter: Yes, actually. The way in which people advertise in the Super Bowl was kind of developed before there was an Internet. One of the things that we did last year — and I don’t think we’re overstating it by saying we pioneered this — is we pre-released our ad. You talked earlier about why we are talking to you. This year, of course what’s happened is everyone will pre-release, literally. I suspect there will not be an ad you’ll see on the Super Bowl that wasn’t available online. So our feeling was if you want to stay ahead of the curve — if no one is pre-releasing, let’s pre-release; if everyone is pre-releasing, let’s do a pre-pre-release.

Ryssdal: Oh my god. Right? It’s like the presidential campaign. It never ends.

Hunter: Exactly.

Ryssdal: Obviously a huge opportunity coming out of last year’s Darth Vader ad. Does that make this campaign more emotional for you guys? I mean, is it harder now because there’s so much attention?

Hunter: The biggest question this year for us was, well firstly, how do you follow up something like that?

Ryssdal: Yeah, right? So how did you do it? Did you sit down with a focus group and show them the 2011 ad with Darth Vader and then say, ‘What did you guys like,’ and then build on themes? Or did you just get some of your own smart people in a room and say, ‘Let’s figure this out.’

Hunter: Yeah, we tend to go for the “our own smart people in a room” sort of angle. We looked at this every way possible. And there was as a group of people who thought let’s just walk away and let’s just do something different. The other one was let’s just do part two. You know, what’s this kid doing now? The third way was to maybe find a kind of a fresh and different way that kept the linkage to the Star Wars franchise alive. That ad last year was lovable, but you also don’t want to underestimate the power — when you get into social media — of that Star Wars community. I mean, there are people…

Ryssdal: Oh, I never thought of that.

Hunter: Oh yes. We don’t just throw it on YouTube and cross our fingers. So it’s no surprise then that we sort of arrived at the third way. And based on that teaser, unsurprisingly, has a link to dogs. Which after Star Wars is another fairly large community in social media.

Ryssdal: That’s right.

Hunter: I’ll tell you what, we stayed away from cats ’cause our feeling was that VW was much more a dog brand.

Ryssdal: Mark Hunter, thanks very much.

Hunter: Thank you, really appreciate it.

Ryssdal: So that, I guess, was a teaser in itself. If you want to see this year’s VW ad and a couple of other pre-released ads from Sunday — click here.

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