Volkswagen Takes a Trip Back to the 1960s in Nostalgic Ad Saluting Its Free-Spirited Owners

When its buses and Beetles became cultural icons

Ah, the 1960s. A time of social upheaval, political unrest and mounting unease about the future.
Sounds a lot like 2017, actually. But that doesn’t stop Deutsch from portraying the Nixon era as an idyllic age in this spot introducing Volkswagen’s People First Warranty:

Was that music festival supposed to be Woodstock? Where’s the free love? (The action in this VW Atlas ad from a few months back came closer.)
“We wanted to celebrate the emotional connection people have to Volkswagen—the soul of the brand and its drivers, their uniqueness, their optimism and their kindness,” Deutsch executive creative director Todd Riddle tells Adweek. “This is a story about people putting people first.”
Those hippies in the ad, titled “Rain,” look more like hipsters. They seem too well coiffed and suspiciously sober.
“The people who bought our cars have always been good-natured, kind, optimistic and free-spirited. They’re the ones who made our brand a cultural icon back in the ’60s,” says VW director of marketing Greg Tebbutt. “We wanted to celebrate Volkswagen owners, the type of people they are, and position the People First Warranty as our acknowledgement and appreciation of them.”
Obviously, VW’s reputation has suffered some dings in recent years, so harkening back to a supposedly simpler time makes sense, though Tebbutt insists such concerns didn’t inform his thinking.
“To be honest, that issue wasn’t a topic of conversation or motivation for this spot,” he says. “As a brand, we’ve recovered from the sales perspective, and what I want to do with the brand is to remind people why they loved it. This era, and what it captures, plays a big part about why people love our brand. We want to become more relevant and desirable in this market, and tapping into our heritage is just one lever on what we can pull from.”
Speaking of heritage, director Lance Acord of Park Pictures has a history with VW, serving as cinematographer on the automaker’s iconic “Milky Way” spot back in the day. (It’s not from the ’60s, but close—1999.) Though many viewers will surely go along for the ride, his effort to spin back the years feels a tad too happy-happy, offering a skewed, Hollywood version of a time and place, rather than a convincing evocation of the real thing.
In fairness, though, plenty of would-be customers weren’t around for the ’60s, so their only notions of the decade come from modern media anyway. Plus, the story has its sweet moments, and the presence of classic vehicles—the VW bus is from 1966, and the Beetle from ’61—is a plus.
But really, playing the woefully overused Joe Cocker version of “With a Little Help From My Friends”? Cosmic bummer!
“We looked at hundreds of songs for over a month, and this one kept coming back to us as the one to beat,” Riddle says. “It emotionally hits the right note, lyrically hits the right note, and is perfect for the spot’s timeline. It was just unbeatable as an option.”
Client: Volkswagen of America
Client Credits
President, CEO: Hinrich Woebcken
Executive Vice President, Sales and Marketing: Derrick Hatami
Senior Director, Marketing Transformation, Strategy, & Communications: Greg Tebbutt
Director, Marketing Communications and Media: Jennifer Clayton
Advertising Manager, VW Marketing: Chanel Barresi
Brand Advertising Senior Specialist: Tammy Nguyen
Deutsch Credits
Chief Creative Officer, North America: Pete Favat
Executive Creative Director: Todd Riddle
Group Creative Director: Heath Pochucha
Creative Director/AD: Paul Oberlin
Creative Director/CW: Matt Sherman
Art Director: Doug Pedersen
Copywriter: Tim Gillingham
Director of Integrated Production: Vic Palumbo
Executive Integrated Producer: Margaret Nickerson
Senior Integrated Producer: Samantha Bonom
Music Supervisor: Eryk Rich
Music Producer: Chase Butters

@DaveGian David Gianatasio is a longtime contributor to Adweek, where he has been a writer and editor for two decades. Previously serving as Adweek's New England bureau chief and web editor, he remains based in Boston.