Volkswagen Celebrates 75 Years in America in a Super Bowl Campaign From Johannes Leonardo

'An American Love Story' pays tribute to passionate owners over the decades

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Ever since the Beetle rolled into the U.S., confounding and exciting the American auto driving public, on Jan. 17, 1949, people have come to love Volkswagen.

To celebrate 75 years in America, Volkswagen is telling visual tales about the history of the brand and its ardent fans.

The campaign, “An American Love Story,” by independent agency Johannes Leonardo, is a tribute to the brand’s impact on America and the country’s impact on the brand.

A 60-second version of the spot, which will air in the third quarter, will be the brand’s first national Super Bowl spot in 10 years.

A two-minute hero spot expands on the brand’s impact on America as the Beetle is driven through the streets of New York in 1949, garnering looks of wonder as Neil Diamond’s “I Am… I Said” plays over the action. This hero film is debuting this morning at the Chicago Auto Show.

The scenes then move to show how VW owners have helped tell the brand’s story through their passion, with shots of people stuffing themselves into the little car (it was a trend started in the ’50s), hitchhiking in a microbus and attending Woodstock in the ’60s.

“When you look at when the Beetle arrived in New York 75 years ago, it didn’t have a place in American culture or society just yet. This, compared to other American vehicles at the time, was a little chunk of metal and an underdog in so many ways. However, what made the vehicles great were the communities and cohorts of Americans who adopted the car and wove it into their own lives,” Rachael Zaluzec, svp of customer experience and brand marketing at Volkswagen of America, told ADWEEK.

The film also celebrates Volkswagen drivers who shaped key cultural movements in America’s history, from surf and counterculture to civil rights and anti-war protests, to family life. The car has also permeated pop culture and entertainment; the ad nods to the Herbie movies, a Simpsons scene and Star Wars character likenesses, harkening back to the brand’s memorable “The Force” ad in 2011 from Deutsch.

In fact, Lance Acord, the director of “The Force,” returned to direct this spot, in conjunction with Johannes Leonardo.

“I loved the script JL sent my way. Crazy looking back, but ‘Pink Moon,’ the VW ad I shot with John and Val (the directing team Dayton/ Ferris) and my first project with the brand, was over 20 years ago. ‘The Force’ came 10 years later, and in the years between now and then, I have had the opportunity to work with the brand again and again,” said Acord.

The spot wraps up by showing the future of Volkswagen, with scenes of its Chattanooga, Tenn. factory, which showcases the brand’s commitment to its evolving fleet and a promise that it will continue to be built for the American people as it goes electric. It also introduces the ID. Buzz electric microbus, which will arrive at dealers this year.

Pulling together 75 years of history

Volkswagen came to Johannes Leonardo with a brief to “reignite the love for the brand in America and invite a new generation in as we look toward the next 75.”

With so many stories from the brand and fans, it took many people and numerous conversations about what to include.

The brand leaned into the archives and talked to those who love its cars most, and ultimately chose drivers who shaped cultural movements in America’s history, then looked ahead to the brand’s electric presence and the future. 

“The goal is to continue to keep turning heads not for the hum of the engine for the next 10 years but for the silence of clean, electric energy,” said Zaluzec.

The agency took those stories and footage, and created a story that spanned the decades.

“Like all things in this film, the culmination of all the different elements from Lance, to the stories we chose to include in the film and the way we shot it was very intentional,” said Jonathan Santana, executive creative director at Johannes Leonardo.

The choice of music came early on in the creative process. Santana said Neil Diamond sings with such emotion and presence that it gives the story an emotional boost.

“’I Am… I Said’ is such a rallying cry for being bigger than yourself and for those who seek to find a sense of belonging. It captures such a moment in time for the brand as well, being released at the height of counterculture in the ’70s,” said Santana. 

VW is proud of its heritage in the U.S., as is evidenced by the spot, and it’s using the Super Bowl to set up the next generation of drivers.

“We see this as an opportunity to not only celebrate our 75th anniversary in the U.S. but more importantly share the future of Volkswagen innovation and moments to come,” said Zaluzec.

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