Volkswagen’s Public Polling Pays Off

Visit Volkswagen’s “What the people want” microsite and the first thing you’ll hear is the squeaky brakes of Max, the talking classic Beetle who stars in his own celebrity-filled talk show in TV spots, as he rolls up to a feedback-producing microphone. Pause too long before taking part in the central attraction of the site — the yes or no voting area that asks questions ranging from “Do you want bloggers to shut up?” to “Do you want to live forever?” — and the playful black bug pipes up with one of several encouraging comments in his exaggerated German accent: “Don’t be a scary rabbit, go ahead and vote!” or “I can’t vote for you, I don’t have any hands.”

Max, the brand’s official spokescar, appears in the German carmaker’s new advertising campaign, “It’s what the people want,” out of Crispin Porter + Bogusky, Boulder, Colo., and Miami. At the center of the multiplatform launch is a national polling effort that utilizes user-generated content in the form of voters’ responses gathered online and via mobile devices and distributes the results across the Web via a site,, online banners and outdoor executions.

Last month, VW unveiled a key element in the buzz-building campaign, a 3,685-square-foot interactive billboard in New York’s Times Square. It pictures the bug parked behind his microphone, alongside the headline “The people want their voice to be heard.” VW is the first brand to utilize the interactive technology of the ABC SuperSign, which allows a two-way dialogue with passersby via SMS. Using their cell phones, pedestrians text their yes or no responses to the poll questions appearing on the sign, and through WAP technology, their texted votes are recorded live on a news ticker.

After any poll reaches 1,000 votes, the results are displayed via Web banners using advanced keyword tagging to match up relevant content. For example, an ad on an article page about the Democratic primaries uses keyword targeting to ensure the most relevant user-generated statement is displayed. The polling questions range from philosophical queries such as “Do you want to live forever?” to the topical such as “Do you want to know the truth behind gas prices?”

As an added bonus, participants can purchase T-shirts displaying the poll of their choice and the name of who submitted it, a detail which is also displayed beneath each question on the Web site and online banners.

“We’ve never done anything like this before,” explains Jeff Benjamin, interactive creative director at Crispin. “We’ve pitched things along these lines to clients, but VW was the first to embrace it.”

The agency, which has been recognized for its innovative use of media, has created mobile applications for clients before, among them, a Verizon cell phone game for Mini, and an interactive mobile application for Burger King that allowed users to play music into their cell phones and the receive a text message with the title and artist. This VW effort is the agency’s first significant project in the mobile space.

“Part of the success of the campaign is based on being in places where you have a passionate audience