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Vw Darth Vader Case Study

  1. Background and the Campaign Objectives  

Before the creative strategy of the VW Passat advertising campaign ”The Force”, created by Deutsch and aired in 2011 in the USA, and its effectiveness are analysed, it is important to discuss the reasons for it being launched and overview of its objectives. A case study by Feldman and Dorsett (2012) is used as the basis for this report.

1.1. The Need for a Strong Advertising Campaign

Despite the success of Volkswagen on a global scale in 2010, when the brand had 13.7% market share and was in the second position within the new cars’ market, following its biggest rival Toyota (Datamonitor,

2011a), it was still struggling in the USA market where its products were considered undersized and overpriced and the brand was mainly recalled in regards to the long-known VW Beetle (Welch 2010). It was losing market share to the top selling brands, such as Toyota, Ford, Hyundai and Nissan (Datamonitor 2011b). Therefore, it is understandable that one of the globally leading brands would try to establish a stronger recognition and market position in such an important region as the USA.

In 2010, a year before ‘The Force’ was launched, Volkswagen had tried to communicate to the mainstream USA audience about the variety and diversity of the VW products and it tried to position itself as trendy, youthful and fun through the ‘Punch Dub’ advertising campaign (Appendix 1), which overall ended up being criticised for appealing just fun, childish and for the doubtful celebrity endorsement of Sluggy (Parpis 2010).

The creative agency for both ‘Punch Dub’ and ‘The Force’, which is to be discussed, was Deutsch LA, a USA based agency that had dealt with nationally and globally recognised brands. It previous experience in dealing with the car manufacturing client Mitsubishi (Fener 2000) before it had received the Volkswagen account in 2009, when it was chosen over strong competitors like DDB with the belief that they would be able to communicate the brand values and the real meaning of the global Das Auto slogan, as well as raise the appeal of the brand in mass market without losing and selling away any of the brand identity (Halliday 2009).

Even though the ‘Punch Dub’ campaign was not a massive success, Volkswagen had a new strategy, new target audiences to gain and new objectives to set in advertising together with Deutsch in 2011.

1.2. The Target Audience and Objectives

According to the case study by Feldman and Dorsett (2012), one of the main objectives for the campaign was to gain attention for the new VW Passat before the Carry was introduced to the USA audience, a new car by the main global rival Toyota, which, by comparison, spends three times more in on advertising. However, not less important was the repositioning objective based on the target audience, whereby Volkswagen was intended to move away from the purely youthful and fun appeal that seemed to be liked more by college students and young female adult customers, and move towards the mass market and broader target, by profiling a successful young family within the advert. Of course, there was also a sales target of over 17,000 in the first four months that this campaign was supposed to support.

Summarising the above, the intention of VW was to raise awareness of the new Passat being launched, to create a consideration in mass target market’s mind of the new product and to support sales by introducing ‘The Force’ advertising campaign.

2. The Overview of the Product – VW Passat

Volkswagen Passat falls into the product sub-category of midsize sedan cars and it was re-engineered and adjusted specifically for the needs of the midsize American market (Feldman and Dorsett 2012). In order to evaluate the advertising campaign by VW within a theoretical framework, it is necessary to understand the product type, involvement and the existing recommendations for advertising strategies for the products within this category.

A car is viewed as a high-involvement product since it meets the criteria of being a high price and high complexity product that significantly differs from its alternatives and reflects the self-concept of buyers in means terms of lifestyle and the perception of  current and favourable self (Saxen 2009). Therefore, an extensive and often time consuming informational search will be conducted by a consumer before the purchase to avoid the perceived risk, which could be monetary due to the price or even psychological, linked to the self-concept.

The Foote, Cone and Belding grid, which categorises products based on their involvement level and their functional versus expressive character, often referred to as ‘think’ and ‘feel’ attributes, suggests that a strategy for a car advertisements should be informative because the product is high-involvement and utilitarian, or a ‘thinking’ product rather than a hedonistic one (Batra et al 2006). This statement suggests that a rational appeal should be used, whereby specific information, even demonstration would be more suitable for car advertisements. However, nowadays when the information is accessible through such a variety of sources, specifically internet where all the rational information for products performance and price is presented in product reviews and descriptions, price comparison websites and many more, it could be questioned whether a rational approach is satisfactory enough to advertise a family car like VW Passat with the objectives listed in the previous part of this paper. Besides, it is necessary to evaluate the possibility of establishing a purely rational unique selling point within a sophisticated new car market, such as the USA. Percy and Elliot (2005) suggest that a car should be advertised by implementing a high-involvement transformational strategy consistent with the Rossiter-Percy grid, which is based on the relationship of consumer involvement and motivation towards the product. These authors emphasise that the primary motivation for a car purchase is positive and the emotional side of the communications is vital to establish the positive feelings towards the advertiser and liking of the brand and the product before (the purchase of it) purchasing it is even considered.

3. The Creative Strategy

  • The Power of Storytelling

The thirty and sixty second advert versions of VW ”The Force” portray a young boy dressed as Darth Vader trying to apply ‘the force” on different subjects around his house and he finally succeeds with a little help from his father and the Volkswagen Passat, in the end (Appendix 2).

Volkswagen and Deutsch had chosen to invoke a purely affective or emotional appeal rather than highly informational or demonstrational appeals. Specifically, their strategy could be described as an abstract affective, which implies loyalty inducing emotions like warmth rather than strong emotions of concrete affect like arousal, excitement or happiness, and it is believed to be more effective in creating higher behavioural intentions in the long-term than concrete affect or even rational appeal (Bülbül and Menon 2010).

According to the case study by Feldman and Dorsett (2012), the core communication strategy was ‘‘Everyone deserves a better car”, which was illustrated through the approach of simply presented human stories. The story is indeed simple – the message itself is one-sided and has a closed ending. The slice of life technique was used, whereby the story takes place in the character’s ‘real life’ environment and the product is being used or interacted with, which is believed to be more honest and engaging than a direct communication to the audience (Wojcik 2006). However, ”The Force” is quite different from the previous advertisements within the car product category (Appendix 3), because the advertised product, VW Passat, appears only in the very end of the story rather than being involved in the action throughout the advert. Instead, the main focus is on people within the advert. A lifestyle association takes place in the advert, which portrays the house and a situation within the everyday life of the target market of this campaign, which – as mentioned above – are younger successful adults with a family. Therefore, a viewer of this advert could or would like to identify with the characters, their beautiful house and would like them, which could result in liking the brand as well.

However, the lifestyle association and the slice of life technique would not be as persuasive alone, without the theme chosen for the advert. The reference to Star Wars, the cult movie saga which has been turned into a franchise that has been globally known for decades, is the key element of the advert. Besides the obvious suggestion of the well-recognised Darth Vader character and the concept of ”the force” being applied, the small details of interior of the house, such as the shiny black floors and white walls, which would recall the spaceship interiors in the Star Wars movies, play an important role within the advert (Champagne 2011).  ”The Force” is an example of an advert with no dialogue or voice over take place, and the story is told only through visuals accompanied by the ”Imperial March” that is as recognised as Darth Vader himself. This specific musical composition is a strong peripheral cue due to its ability to grab attention from the first notes.

The finale of the advert contains the only bit of rational information in the advert, announcing the soon release of the product and informing about the estimate price. The advert is closed with the brands’ logo and ”Das Auto”, or ”The Car” in German, the slogan that ”reflects VW’s claim to have brought car ownership to the masses in many countries” (Armitage 2007: p.22).

The campaign reached the audience through both traditional mass media (television) and a more interactive channel – the internet. The media choice and scheduling has proven to be vital in case of this campaign.

In terms of television as a communication channel, ”The Force” has been aired only twice: the first time during the Super Bowl 2011, which was half a year before the product launch, and the second time just before the Passat was available to the public (Feldman and Dorsett 2012). Super Bowl is the most watched event in the USA every year (Lafayette 2011) with a reach of 111million people in 2011 (no author 2011). Advertising space during this sports event is the most expensive of the year and the price could be up to ten times higher than for a normal prime-time spot (Nail 2007). On the other hand, despite the large reach factor, the advertising quality is high and so is its volume; it has been argued whether the recall and recognition of the brands suffer due to the high clutter effect (Jeong et al 2011).

The campaign went viral before it appeared on television. It used YouTube as the online vehicle starting four days before the Super Bowl and generating 12.4 million views before it was aired (Feldman and Dorsett 2012). However, such a result might not be achieved without viewer interaction and active behaviour since the online content nowadays is widely shared and passed on via social media channels like Facebook and Twitter. Still, the creative strategy of ”The Force” has the main impact on such an active involvement of public since advertising messages with a higher capability to entertain are perceived as more successful in an interactive online environment (Taylor 2009).

4. The effectiveness of the Campaign

This Volkswagen campaign has proven to be effective since it outperformed all of its objectives. According to the case study by Feldman and Dorsett (2012), ”The Force” was leading among all the competitors’ campaigns for Super Bowl 2011 in terms of memorability, creative appeal and message, as well as brand communication, and it has received many awards and accolades by all: major rating services like and professional, worldwide recognised advertising publications and Awards bodies, such as Cannes Lions. The same source states that the campaign was a viral success and has been recognised as ”the most viewed video ad globally in 2011 with 46m views; the most viewed auto ad of all time; and the most shared branded video of all time with 4.71 million social media shares” (Feldman and Dorsett 2012: p.9). Now, which is the beginning of January 2013, ”The Force” has more than 55.5 million views on YouTube (Appendix 1). Other sources, such as the authority in advertising effectiveness Ace Metrix™ (2011) supports the statements above and indicates that ”The Force” was able to overcome the clutter of other nineteen auto adverts during the Super Bowl that year and managed to score 10% higher than the average car advert created for this event.

In terms of sales objectives, it is believed that the campaign has helped to exceed the original launch target by 22% (Feldman and Dorsett 2012), but it has also helped to boost sales of other VW car models, resulting in overall 24% increase in the first ten months of 2011 (Williams 2011). This tendency seems to be continuing since the VW sales in US rose by 26% in last two years and the demand is growing (Rogers 2012).

Overall, Volkswagen has gained its share of voice in the USA market. After the success of ”The Force” the brand has included the core elements of this campaign into the next year’s Super Bowl 2012 related adverts: ”The Bark Side”, where the ”Imperial March” melody is used, and ”The Dog Strikes Back”, where a Darth Vader appears again as an adult now (Appendix 4), but the overall success and the buzz were not as large as they were for ”The Force”. Perhaps, if the original young Darth Vader character would be involved in the story at least in a few frames, the advert could score as good as ”The Force” campaign due to the audiences’ familiarity and likability of the character.

Any brand, even if not a competitor, could learn from ”The Force” campaign how to engage with the target public through excellent storytelling and use the mix of traditional media and the internet effectively. This campaign is an example of how existing theoretical frameworks sometimes are not relevant in achieving objectives, and according to the CEO of Deutsch Michael Sheldon, the reason why people bought the VW cars was because they were not actually trying to sell (Williams 2011).


1. Punch Dub:

Client: Volkswagen

Agency: Deutsch LA

Advert for SuperBowl 2010

2. The Force:

Client: Volkswagen

Agency: Deutsch LA

Advert for SuperBowl 2011

55,707,026 views [Accessed 9th January 2013].

3. Car Adverts’ Creative Tendencies (Examples):

  • Demonstration (based on driving experience) advert examples:

Mercedes-Benz “Sorry”

BMW ”Feelings Remain”

  • Engineering based adverts:

Audi ”The R8: The Slowest Car Audi Ever Built”

Honda ”The Cog”

Chrysler ”Imported from Detroit” staring Eminem

Lexus ”Carjam Radio” staring Kylie Minogue

4. VW SuperBowl 2012 Adverts:

17,980,839 views [Accessed 9th January 2013].

16,301,829 views [Accessed 9th January 2013].


Ace Metrix™ (7th February 2011) Volkswagen’s “The Force” Ad is the Most Effective Automotive Super Bowl Ad. Business Wire. [Online] Available from: Regeonal Business News [Accessed 4th January 2013].

Armitage, T. (Sunday 12th December 2007) Another word for car? Its VW, says VW. Automotive News. [Online] 82 (6281), 22. Available from: Business Source Premier [Accessed 3rd January 2013].

Bülbül, C. and Menon, G. (2010) The Power of Emotional Appeals in Advertising. Journal of Advertising Research. [Online] 50 (2), 169-180. Available from: Business Source Premier [Accessed 3rd January 2013].

Champagne, C. (Friday 18th February 2011) Director/DP Lance Acord, Deutsch LA Harness ”The Force” For Volkswagen. SHOOT. [Online] 52 (2), 8. Available from: Business Source Premier [Accessed 3rd January 2013].

Datamonitor (2011) New Cars Sales Industry Profile: Global. [Online] 1-37. Available from: Business Source Premier [Accessed 28th December 2012].

Datamonitor (2011) New Cars Sales Industry Profile: United States. [Online] 1-43. Available from: Business Source Premier [Accessed 28th December 2012].

Feldman, J. and Dorsett, J. (2012) VW Passat: How a single spot can create a social phenomenon. Institute of Practitioners in Advertising. [Online] Available from: World Advertising Research Center [Accessed 15th December 2012].

Fener, J. (Thursday 8th July 2000) Car Envy via Deutsch. Adweek Western Edition. [Online] 50 (32), 8. Available from: Business Source Premier [Accessed 28th December 2012].

Jeong, Y., Kim, Y. and Zhao, X. (2011) Competing for Consumer Memory in Television Advertising. International Journal of Advertising. [Online] 30 (4), 617-640. Available from: Business Source Premier [Accessed 3rd January 2013].

Halliday, J. (Monday 26th October 2009). How Deutsch L.A. snared plum VW account. Automotive News. [Online] 84 (6383), 1. Available from: Business Source Premier [Accessed 28th December 2012].

Lafayette, J. (Monday 5th September 2011) NBC Nears Super sellout At $3.5 Million Per Spot. Brodcasting & Cable. [Online] 141 (33), 14. Available from: Business Source Premier [Accessed 3rd January 2013].

Nail, J. (2007) Visibility vs Surprise: Which Drives the Greatest Discussion of Super Bowl Advertisements? Journal of Advertising Research. [Online] 47 (4), 412-419. Available from: Business Source Premier [Accessed 3rd January 2013].

No author (Monday 14th February 2011) No dearth of Web hits for VW’s dinky Darth. Automotive News. [Online] 85 (6451), 46. Available from: Business Source Premier [Accessed 3rd January 2013].

Parpis, E. (Tuesday 2nd February 2010) Das Punch Line. Brandweek. [Online] 51 (6), 14. Available from: Academic Search Complete [Accessed 28th December 2012].

Percy, L. and Elliot, R. (2005) Strategic Advertising Management. 2nd edition. New York, Oxford Press.

Rogers, C. (Monday 6th February 2012) Praise for U.S.-built Passat. Automotive News. [Online] 86 (6502), 34.  Available from: Business Source Premier [Accessed 3rd January 2013].

Taylor, C. (2009) The Six Principles of Digital Advertising. International Journal of Advertising. [Online] 28 (3), 411-418. Available from: Business Source Premier [Accessed 3rd January 2013].

Welch, D. (Friday 25th January 2010) The Transformer: Why VW is the Car Giant to Watch. Business week. [Online] (4164), 44-48. Available from: Business Source Premier [Accessed 28th December 2012].

Williams, S. (Monday 7h October 2011) Volkswagen: a Return to Glory Road for Carmakers. Advertising Age. [Online] 82 (40), 24.  Available from: Academic Search Complete [Accessed 4th January 2013].

Wojcik, S. (Thursday 23rd March 2006) Watch and Learn. Back Stage East. [Online] 47 (12), 7. Available from: Business Source Premier [Accessed 3rd January 2013].

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In a radical deviation from my normal hardcore SEO posts, I am going to look at some subject matter that addresses my other passions in life: Star Wars, TV and my family. So let’s have a look at possibly the best advert ever, The Force by Volkswagen.

In a radical deviation from my normal hardcore SEO posts, I am going to look at some subject matter that addresses my other passions in life: Star Wars, TV and my family. So let’s have a look at possibly the best advert ever, The Force by Volkswagen.

Within marketing we have a tendency to consider TV as a bit of a dying medium and the general public in me rarely pays any attention to adverts that aren’t a movie trailer or have attractive ladies in them (Nicole? Papa?). If you had asked me three weeks ago to name my favourite and most memorable advert I would have gone with the Carling Black Label advert from the 1980’s which spans three adverts. You know, the one with the cowboys? Oh you were two years old in the 80’s! Let’s move on... The 2011 Super Bowl took place in February and although I didn’t personally watch it, more than 111,000,000 Americans did. Bar the upcoming royal wedding this will no doubt be the most watched event on TV during 2011, and because of this, the advertisement slots were very sought after (if a little expensive). The usual suspects were in there such as movie teasers for the new X-men movie, Super 8, Thor and many others. Big consumer brands were also present such as Doritos and Pepsi. While watching the various movie trailers, I came across an interesting looking advert by Volkswagen containing a mini Darth Vader and I discovered my new favourite advert ever. What makes this advert so great? There are several adverts out at the moment that are snigger worthy but nothing more. My colleague Tom wrote an interesting post about the Yell Day V Lately ad which you can read here. I was around when J R Hartley hit the screens and until then I probably didn’t know what the Yellow Pages was. I now know Yell has an App but to be honest I don’t care as we have Google. The Volkswagen advert on the other hand ticks a lot of boxes for me and other Thirty-Something males. I like Star Wars, I used to drive around in Golf GTI’s and the likes, and I now have a family (no more Golf GTI’s). All of these traits are directly represented in the VW advert. It’s got a small boy (it must be a boy) in a Darth Vader costume, it features a pretty middle of the road family, the young boy displays nearly identical traits to every 4-year-old I have ever met, and in true car advert style the featured VW Passat is top spec. So for me it ticks all the right boxes as an advert but... When I talk about this advert I say things like “Have you seen the advert with the mini Darth Vader?” or similar. I rarely consider the brand. Indeed when you watch the advert the whole brand side of things is minimal. You see the car at the end for a few seconds and it is a main part of the crescendo, but until the VW logo appears at the very end you have no idea it has anything to do with Volkswagen. This lack of brand focus is both a plus and a massive negative. From a plus point we are not getting VW thrust down our necks like most car adverts and are left alone to marvel at the content. However, on a negative side... Where does this advert fail? As a tool for driving awareness for the new VW Passat, the advert kind of fails. I am left knowing nothing about the car other than it has remote central locking and comes in grey. On top of this, has anyone ever seen the advert airing on UK TV other than those select few who watched the Super Bowl? The team at Hitwise did some analysis on traffic trends after the Super Bowl. The research is here, but the main point is that the advert did more for Darth Vader than it did for Volkswagen. This is further confirmed by Google Insights. Here we can see that there was a spike in Volkswagen related searches, but man alive Darth must have made a mint (followed by,, you get the thread. Rant over). When we look at the UK nothing really happened. Let’s face it nobody saw it. On TV anyway. What if it wasn’t about Passat awareness? As an experiment for social media and viral marketing this has been a major success, at marketing the Youtube video... hmmm... Even though nobody I know watched the Super Bowl (maybe Nicole did but she is American), everybody I know has seen this advert. As of the 16th of February, in the knowledge the commercial was uploaded to Youtube on the 2nd and aired on the 8th, the Youtube video has had more than 30,000,000 views and generated over 23,000 comments. Yahoo Site Explorer (not dead yet) has recorded more than 43,000 links to the Youtube video. Facebook walls all over the world are riddled with the video as are Twitter feeds. Again Youtube must be loving it but Volkswagen.... To conclude While I don’t want Volkswagen to fall into the typical car advert rut of going fast down a windy road blah blah blah, lessons need to be learnt. You can have a happy balance between product placement and cool ideas that drives product interest, social engagement and ultimately sales. Take Blendtec. There sales have gone through the roof off of the “Will it blend?” marketing. You’re having fun while all the time learning just how awesome a Blendtec blender is. Whether this winning formula can be used for larger products such as cars, well smarter people than me can work that out, but in the case of generating Volkswagen awareness, it didn’t. I have added the blooper / making of real that Volkwagen added on the 8th below. More absolute awesomeness. I close with a salute to Volkwagen for making such an amazing advert.