Volkswagen Breaks Down Another Taboo With a Beautiful Ad About the Pain of Family Life

Inside a father and son's difficult relationship

In advertising, the concept of family is almost always a positive one—bringing joy, comfort and meaning to people’s lives. Some comic advertising has fun with dysfunctional families, but it’s rare that an advertisement takes a serious look at one of the most fundamental of human problems—the pain caused by difficult family relationships.

Volkswagen steps boldly into that fray with a lovely new long-form ad in Denmark called “Generations.” Made by creative shop Very Agency, it features a man, at the urging of his mother, taking a road trip with his aging father in the old man’s vintage Beetle.

From the first few seconds of the short film, it’s clear this will be a bumpy ride. Out of nowhere, we see the son emerging from the Beetle alone, in the countryside, and suddenly screaming in anger at the sky and punching the air.

Only later do we understand what’s happened. But suffice it to say, old wounds have surfaced. He’s battling the kind of unseen, ancient injuries that only our loved ones can so deeply inflict.

Sune Svanborg Sørensen came up with the idea, wrote the script and directed the film—a collaboration with Very Agency, creative director Thomas Pries and production company Shoot Happens. The plot isn’t revolutionary. In fact, it’s fairly commonplace—for an unbranded film. But it’s unusual for a commercial, and the story is skillfully told—with the product’s role in the storytelling particularly clever.

The road-trip framework keeps the brand front and center (we could have done without the VW mug, but OK), and yet the Beetle’s role is ambiguous. The father adores it; the son resents it. It becomes a symbol of their disconnect—a thorny spot indeed for a brand. And yet, the trip itself, taken in an automobile that’s practically a family heirloom, also seems to facilitate an awakening in the son to the knowledge that his father did love him after all. (This is also left nicely ambiguous, and open to interpretation.)

"For us it is something real and a conversation that is already going on out there."
Thomas Bjerg, Very Agency

That the spot tackles a somewhat taboo topic shouldn’t be a surprise, given the agency involved. Very Agency also made last year’s remarkable short film about divorce for another automaker, Ford—a piece of work that was likewise both beautiful and sad. That film, titled “The Family,” won a gold Lion in Entertainment at Cannes in 2016. (Difficult family topics are something that Ikea has also been broaching in ad campaigns in its home country of Sweden.)

AdFreak spoke with Thomas Bjerg, CEO at Very Agency in Copenhagen, about the new VW work. He said the goal of this kind of campaign is to tap into the emotional truths about cars, not just the practical benefits or features, and also to present real and relatable human situations that are happening in the world, whether or not most advertisers want to admit it or address it.

“Every third adult experiences conflict with their parents that affects the relationship,” he said. “We don’t judge what is right or wrong, but we try to tap into the already existing meaningful conversations. For us it is something real and a conversation that is already going on out there.”

The story does tie back to the VW brand pretty directly, though, he added.

“An important theme of the film is the father-son relationship and how the main character learns from the relationship with his father, as he tries to be a better father for his own son,” Bjerg said. “Fathers are committed to being the best version of themselves for the next generation. And in a similar fashion, Volkswagen aims to constantly improve and be even better than the previous generation.” (The son in the film tacitly acknowledges both truths—being a loving father to his own boy, while driving his own, late-model VW too.)