Critique: Vapor Action

VW’s New Beetle Driven by Cybersell
It struck me as a watershed, a big cultural moment, like watching the guy in The Graduate tell Dustin Hoffman the future was “plastics” or gawking at that woman in the Macintosh spot as she hurled a sledgehammer at Big Brother so that 1984 would not be like 1984.
This time, six months into the millennium, the new Beetle spot has all the markings of the new century. Subtle and enigmatic, it begins with some enchanting music (“Renaissance Affair” by Hoovermatic) and a visual haiku: sky, clouds, tree branches and drops of water reflected on a smooth, shiny surface.
It’s a seductive little puzzle. Is it a Japanese commercial for body wash? There’s lots of mist, fog, moisture, condensation–the poetic side of vapor. But there’s no bathing here. Toward the end of the spot, we see these elements condensing on the smartly designed sunroof of the new Beetle, which is parked on a mountaintop. A guy gets out of the car, looks at the perfectly blue sky with a young woman. It’s not just the combo of nature and technology that’s so artfully presented. Here’s the century-forward rub: “You can’t help but fall in love with a color like this,” the announcer tells us, about three-quarters into the moisture-inspired bliss. “New color, new Beetle, only 2,000 available, only online.”
Only 2,000 in the year 2000. I was moved. Ironically, this new cybersell really brings on the pressure! From the ethereal, calming feeling brought on by the opening visual, I went into anxiety overdrive thinking of the limited market–and that people probably got online while I was sleeping.
It’s amazing how those five words (“only 2,000 available, only online”) shift the feeling from limitless possibility to gotta act now! It was much worse than watching a car dealer harangue his audience in a low-budget spot because we can laugh that off. This, however, brought on a new cyberworry.
So I checked the Web site,, which is in keeping with Volkswagen’s †ber-designed coolness. (The Web site for last year’s Beetle, the Turbonium, won every cyberhonor at the award shows this year.) The “Vapor” spot is the second in the series; the one for the limited-edition color Reflex Yellow already ran.
The site’s opening page resembles High Noon at But the standoff is between two cute beetles: Reflex Yellow, “We went for subtle and blew it big time,” and Vapor, “It’s what happens when blue sees a ghost.” According to the agency, about 1,000 cars were sold in the first two weeks the TV spots ran. They’re running for two more weeks, so don’t worry kids, they are not sold out.
Though the Web site is interesting to navigate and you could conceivably complete the purchase from behind your computer, it’s unlikely. More probably, you’ll fool around with the Web site, get the name of the dealer in your ZIP code and transact your business much as you did in the 20th century.
It turns out that buying a car over the Internet isn’t so easy, and Volkswagen isn’t alone with this problem. A recent piece in The Wall Street Journal explained that dealers, the quintessential middlemen, are still demanding their cut–and taking the fight to state legislatures, where they are major lobbyists. States such as Arizona have created new laws preventing car makers from circumventing local dealers.
I typed in my info and was given the name of my local dealer, who was just a mile from my home. It turned out to be the conveniently located Potamkin Volkswagen, which gave me a laugh. In the bad old days as Potamkin Cadillac, that local dealership ran over-the-top, ripe-for-parody ads featuring Mr. Potamkin’s wife, Luba. She made Leona Helmsley look like Margaret Mead.
We can buy an exciting new car but not in an exciting new way. Let’s just say that within the futuristic online buying process, there are still a few bugs to be worked out. K
Volkswagen of America
Agency: Arnold, Boston
Chief Creative Officer: Ron Lawner
Group CD: Alan Pafenbach
Copywriter: Shane Hutton
Art Director: Tim Vaccarino
Agency Producer: Bill Goodell
Director: Robert Logeval/Bruce Dowad Production