VW Jetta Embarks on Crash Course

ATLANTA Volkswagen has drawn some media scrutiny this week with two TV spots from Crispin Porter + Bogusky that depict graphic crashes to illustrate the safety features of the VW Jetta

In each commercial, Jettas are hit in viscious side-impact crashes caused by the careless drivers of other cars. The executions end with the VW passengers stunned but uninjured and the slogan, “Safe happens.”

VW officials could not be reached for comment and calls to the Miami-based MDC Partners shop were not returned.

The crash imagery is violent, but a marketing consultant in Santa Barbara, Calif., said the technique could ultimately pay off for the automobile manufacturer.

“Safety was Volvo’s position forever,” said Doc Searls, president of Searls Group. “But this could become a niche market for VW.”

Dennis Virag, president of the Automotive Consulting Group in Ann Arbor, Mich., agreed. “We once said in this industry that safety doesn’t sell,” Virag said. “Times have changed. Safety does sell.”

The emphasis on safety also can divert attention away from the lack of reliability that has haunted VW for the past several years, Searls said. Unfavorable reviews in publications such as Consumer Reports have contributed to steadily declining sales for VW in the past several years, he said. “Now is a good time for VW to place their bets,” Searls added.

Last year, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Jetta its top rating among midsize cars in side-impact crash tests. Showing accidents is a good way to emphasize that quality, he said.

Although the graphic nature of the ads could disturb people who have lost family members in automobile accidents, Searls said they could still be effective.

“The Holy Grail of advertising is to inform people and ads like that can actually communicate something,” Searls said.

VW shifted its $400 million North American ad account to CP+B from Havas’ Arnold in Boston last December.

Initial VW ads from CP+B had been exceptionally light in tone; the most recent work for the GTI took a stab at comedy with a male and female German engineer duo in white lab-coat-style attire [Adweek Online, Feb. 16].