Volkswagen, Apple and the Irresistible Force of Using Classic Characters in Ads

Myra Nussbaum talks Little Vader and her other favorite spots

Headshot of Tim Nudd

No advertising lives in a vacuum. Many great campaigns not only reflect the culture around them, they appropriate existing characters, real and fictional, and make them their own—using that borrowed equity to spark familiarity and interest, from which the brand can then create something entirely new.

DDB’s Myra Nussbaum chose two such campaigns—Apple’s “Think Different” from 1997, and Volkswagen’s “The Force” spot from 2011—when we sat down with her at One Show judging in March asked about about her favorite spots for our “Best Ads Ever” series.

Deutsch’s “The Force,” of course, impressively used equity from the Star Wars universe, taking the larger-than-life character of Darth Vader and bringing him down to adorable size for the 2011 Super Bowl. The spot, which ran as a :60 online and a :30 on the game, is celebrated as one of the most charming ads ever made—and with a clever product tie-in at the end.

“There’s that hook immediately when advertisers use legends, or use things that people already love, and then can own that,” Nussbaum said. “It’s really brilliant. I just love the beauty of that childlike imagination, and the parents sharing that joke. It’s great.”

In a different way, the famous Apple campaign—which Nussbaum called “one of the most amazing things ever made”—did a similar thing with real historical characters. “It’s just such an elegant way to do brand work,” she added.

For her third favorite spot, Nussbaum chose another Volkswagen ad, “Bubble Boy” from 2003 (which Gerry Graf also chose in his “Best Ads Ever” video).

While “Bubble Boy” doesn’t lean on existing characters, Nussbaum said something else unites her three picks—that in each case, the brand comes in at the end as a kind of punch line, allowing the viewer to enjoy the story before getting the brand connection.

For more from Nussbaum, including what inspires her creatively outside advertising these days, check out the video above. Check out a couple of other recent “Best Ads Ever” videos below. And for the full series, click here.

@nudd Tim Nudd is a former creative editor of Adweek.