Barbara Lippert’s Critique

The tree has spoken. At least, it was talking to me, as the static, mighty oak-based Volkswagen spot came into view during the Super Bowl. I loved the unexpected composition of the shot: so beautiful and painterly, with the primal form of the ancient tree taking up three- quarters of the frame. Two guys stare up at it–giving new meaning to “Whassup?”—from the side. And unlike other ads, this was slow and devoid of tricks. No animal, mineral or digital—just one proud tree.

We feel the raw elements—there’s no music in the background, only the natural sound of the wind and the hissing rain. One guy throws a stick. This tells us nothing. Then the other man picks up a moldy old tennis ball and throws it. Bong—it sounds as if he hit a steel drum. Finally, one guy removes his shoe and throws it up and that does the trick: A red Volkswagen GTI thumps to the ground in perfect shape.

The feeling of the car falling, however, is less like flying and more like birth. It’s as if an animal of the veldt were being born, up and ready to run almost immediately. The deadpan lines that follow are pretty funny: “Next time, let the clutch out easier,” one guys says to the other, as they get in the car. “Right.”

The creators say they took pains to ensure the tree wasn’t harmed during filming. I thought “Tree” was one of the more interesting and dignified spots on the Super Bowl.

Of course, for sheer majesty, nothing beat the E*Trade monkey sitting tall in the saddle. Talk about self-reinvention. Last year, he was on a folding chair in a garage. This year, he was the picture of dignity—like a prehensile El Exigente or a primate Ronald Reagan riding on horseback, surveying the very American landscape of the fallen dot-coms. Don’t cry for me, pimentoloaf.com! And could that chimp ever shed a tear!

That sort of super-human poignancy was missing from this latest Volkswagen campaign, but the second spot, “Big Day,” made up for that in cleverness. It opens on a young guy who is desperately late, zooming in a Jetta VR6 and getting stuck behind a trailer. Meanwhile, we see cuts of a bride dressing, and her dad checking his watch. Our driver madly accelerates and gets to the church just as the doors close.

Coo coo ca chu, Mrs. Robinson—this is a scene that echoes the end of The Graduate, when Benjamin shows up at the church to steal Elaine away from her boring fate. But there is much more ambiguity in this spot: Is he the groom? The spoiler? Or maybe attracted to the other guy? All we get as an answer is the line, “Fasten your seat belts.” This is one bumpy ride that deserves a sequel.

The mystery is not nearly as compelling, or clear, in the third ad. Again, it features two dudes in the woods. A flash goes off. We hear some growling as the two guys come racing out of the woods and back to their car. In its amateur quality and faux scariness, the spot has a Blair Witch quality.

As the guys speed away in their Jetta Wolfsburg, the one in the passenger seat reveals what caused furor. It’s a Polaroid of him and a baby bear. (You never mess with a mother bear.) But to the average viewer, it was completely unclear what the animal was—a dog, a wolf, a baby alien—so I didn’t get the joke.

This spot had less of the élan of the great Volkswagen spot of yore (two guys picking up and returning an abandoned chair) and more of the jerk-in-the-woods factor of those Reebok commercials on Survivor.

Still, it’s an interesting way to sell sheet metal and performance—by contrasting it with the few, the proud, the deciduous. Volkswagen

Agency

Arnold Worldwide

Boston



“Tree”

Chief Creative Officer

Ron Lawner

Group Greative Director

Alan Pafenbach

Art Director

Don Shelford

Copywriter

David Weist

Agency Producer

Bill Goodell

Director

Mike Mills/

The Director’s Bureau



“Big Day,” “Woods”

Art Director

Paul Renner

Copywriter

Carl Loeb

Agency Producer

Keith Dezen

Director

Dante Ariola/

Propaganda Films