CP+B Returns to the Scene of the Crash

NEW YORK Oh, Crispin, you didn’t! Talk about your never-ending loop of self-examination.

In “Critique,” this latest VW spot shows two women driving in a Passat, talking about advertising—specifically critiquing VW’s previous crash commercials (for the Jetta) until they, too, get into a horrifying crash. So is a meta-crash worse than a mere crash? VW Crash II: Brilliant and analytical, or arrogant and annoyingly self-referential? Here we go again with the head-spinning cycles.

How do I critique the critiquers? I can see that the idea is a bit self-adoring, but I’ve got to say that I found it compelling when it popped on the screen. As with the earlier series, in this latest spot, the dialogue inside the car is so well written—organic, natural, and lulling—that you can’t help being sucked in. What makes the spot’s self-reverence (and reference) bearable is that the more talkative friend, in the passenger seat, actually disses the earlier Jetta ads, saying, “These people are talking, whatever, and WHAM! I think they went too far . . . It’s shocking for shock value.”

Her friend, the driver, disagrees. “Yeah, I’ve seen it” she says. “I think where they went was real. Do you think being in an accident is not a shock? That’s why they call it an accident.”

Then, just as the passenger had recounted, WHAM. (Are the gods telling her that she dare not even question the earlier spots?) The wrath of the crash is as fierce looking and ferocious sounding (shattered glass, crumpled steel, etc.) as the earlier spots. The tagline from the Jetta spots, “Safe happens,” reappears here, along with the four-star crash rating.

Certainly, it’s a clever way of updating the campaign, returning to the scene of the crime, literally and figuratively. It’s not ridiculous to think that people did talk about those commercials—although after this, will anyone talk about the crash commercial that talks about the crash commercials? Even the idea gets head hurting.

Also advertising about advertising, a second Passat spot, called “Four Hours,” is less successful. It offers a perfectly cast, diverse, demo-appropriate group of guys motoring along in a Passat wagon, as an E.D. drug commercial, with its notorious four-hour erection warning, is heard on the radio.

Isn’t this kind of old by now? It seems to me that the peak E.D. joke period was just around the time Levitra aired a spot showing a football being thrown through a tire (such a romantic metaphor!). That was at least three years ago.

Meanwhile, in this all-boy conversation in the Passat wagon, the E word is never mentioned, but the guys do go on and on with the four-hour jokes: “Did he just say four hours? That’s not a health warning; it’s a scheduling issue!” the guy in the back says. “Why would you call your doctor? Send him a tip.” Not only is the conversation unfunny and dated (the Miller Man Laws are beyond genius by comparison), but it’s downright grotesque to introduce that particular subject right before a car crash. Are we summoning up the idea of a castration or crash?

Self-reference happens, and sometimes it’s the kind of accident people would rather avoid.

—Barbara Lippert is an Adweek columnist