Volkswagen Returns to Super Bowl

Volkswagen of America is returning to the Super Bowl this year. The carmaker is launching two 30-second commercials, which tout new models (due out later this year): the 2012 Passat and redesigned “21st Century” Beetle.

For the Passat, VW is turning to “the force” of Lucasfilm’s Star Wars to build buzz for the midsize family car. A boy dressed as Darth Vader channels the dark side to the iconic music of John Williams’ “The Imperial March” on a Passat parked in the driveway. The boy is shocked to find that he’s successful, not knowing his father started the car remotely through the kitchen window.

The Beetle commercial is a teaser. It stars not the remodeled classic, but an animated beetle that shows off its speed in a lush forest to the rocking music of “Black Betty,” rerecorded by Jon Spencer and the Blues Explosion. The final shot exhibits the insect in silhouette and fades to a white outline of the car’s curved top and the announcement: “The 21st Century Beetle. Coming this fall.”

Deutsch/LA, Playa del Rey, Calif., created the ads.

The Super Bowl provides “a great opportunity to raise awareness of the Passat and the Beetle,” two models that will be critical to VW’s growth in the U.S., said Tim Ellis, vp of marketing at Volkswagen of America. “It is absolutely essential that we succeed with Passat. It is the linchpin to our growth.”

To support the company’s aggressive growth goals, which Ellis has projected as tripling sales to 800,000 units by the year 2018, VW is increasing its media budget by 55 percent this year. A 95 percent increase is expected in its digital spending, said Ellis. Last year, VW spent $115 million in measured media, according to Nielsen. U.S. sales were up 20 percent, outpacing the 11 percent industry growth average.

Ellis said the brand, which up until last year had not advertised during the Super Bowl since 2001, returned to the game due to the positive results it saw after last year’s showing. VW used the game last year to launch “Punch Dub,” a campaign that showcased its entire car line.

Page views of niche models on the VW Web site were up 82 percent, said Ellis, compared to pre-advertised levels. On Facebook, VW “gained 50,000 fans overnight,” and now has 500,000. Ellis added: “It is a significant testament to the emotional equity we have for the brand, but also the effort we put in to digital and social media.” The Super Bowl commercial was viewed more than 1 million times online, with 680,000 views alone on YouTube.

This year, the brand will have a YouTube takeover the day after the game, where a 60-second version of the Passat spot will be available for viewing. It will also house the Beetle ad and the “Inside VW Academy” online video campaign, starring Saturday Night Live’s Bill Hader.

“TV is king. There is no doubt about that, but more important is a completely integrated campaign,” said Ellis, who noted that the push will also include outdoor, print, experiential marketing and “innovative mobile media.”