Is a Car Ad without Cars kinda Crazy?

An Ad from Volkswagen

While most Car Ads showcase their cars driving around some corner with the sun setting behind it, the new Volkswagen campaign shows 27 seconds of people laughing ranging from babies all the way up to seniors.  And no car.  

Only Volkswagen could attempt to pull this ad off.   They have a history of doing quirky ads, dating back to the 50s.  And looking at the Brand Love Index for Family Car brands, VW is the most loved of the brands, with 44% rating it as either Loved or Beloved.  Toyota and Honda are just behind with 38% and 30%.  

For a Beloved Brand, Volkswagen should be to continue the magic in order to maintain the love for their brand.   VW has a very loyal cult-like following.  They already have awareness and people know the differences in their brand.  As much as Steve Jobs professed “Think Different”, Volkswagen has 60 years of thinking differently.

Overall, the ad does a good job in attracting Attention in that 27 seconds of just laughing is sure to make you look at the TV screen.  But, I’m not sure the Branding of linking VW to the idea of the laughing moments does a good enough job.  I don’t think the cut to white screen show brand name really does much at all.  Looking closely, the ad is supposed to send you to as a potential combination of traditional and digital media.  I think that Communication gets  totally lost in the ad.  I’d love to see a 60 second version that could be used for viral sharing with friends, which could help with the Stickiness of the idea.  The website is pretty good though–I like the story telling, especially in the voice of the consumer who can connect important moments of their life to the VW brand.  

An Ad from Honda

Here’s another TV ad that tries to play in the same space, but this time from Honda.  One difference is that while it ties into life moments, it has the Car as the backbone of each of those little life moments.

The Honda ad does a good job at connecting with consumers.   It might not draw as much Attention as the VW ad, but it will connect just as well eventually.  But the Branding and Communications are so much stronger that not only will it continue to drive the connectivity between the consumer and the brand, it will also help to sell more cars.  In terms of Stickiness, they also have a 90 second anthemic version that they used to kick off the campaign.  Here’s the link:

So while the VW ad makes me smile as it was intended to do, I don’t think this ad will be a big hit.  I like the idea better than I like the execution.  On the other hand, the Honda ad plays in the same space and it connects the idea of Life Moments nicely to the brand.  

I give the win to Honda, but want to hear your views:

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About Graham Robertson: I’m a marketer at heart, who loves everything about brands.  My background includes 20 years of CPG marketing at companies such as Johnson and Johnson, Pfizer Consumer, General Mills and Coke. The reason why I started Beloved Brands Inc. is to help brands realize their full potential value by generating more love for the brand.   I only do two things:  1) Make Brands Better or 2) Make Brand Leaders Better.  I have a reputation as someone who can find growth where others can’t, whether that’s on a turnaround, re-positioning, new launch or a sustaining high growth.  And I love to make Brand Leaders better by sharing my knowledge. My promise to you is that I will get your brand and your team in a better position for future growth.  To read more about Beloved Brands Inc., visit   or visit my Slideshare site at where you can find numerous presentations on How to be a Great Brand Leader.  Feel free to add me on Linked In at  or on follow me on Twitter at @GrayRobertson1

9 thoughts on “Is a Car Ad without Cars kinda Crazy?

  1. The reason for a break in the traditional campaign run becomes obvious when you see the VW ad. It built a bridge between mood and their product sale. How refreshing. The Honda spot is more of the same; wanted to send a credible message on mood and emotion but lost credibility with too much product. Obviously the VW strategy can be afforded when backed by strong media. NOTE: I am VW fan with multiple previous purchases of the brand and had never seen the VW ad (without cars) until this article; the media plan sucks.

    • As I put it in the article I like the idea I just think there’s a flaw in the execution of the ad. Whenever you cut to a white screen with the brand-name it’s been proven in advertising tracking study research and a pure logic that it just doesn’t really Brand Link. It’s just another one of those gag and tag ads That can make for great theater but not really do anything for the brand. And if you look really really close at the ad You will notice the website that they are trying to send you two is in a light gray along the bottom. If they hope to use the mass media to send you to the Internet site it’s a total fail.

      One more point. More media never makes up for the flaw of an ad. More of a bad thing is still a bad thing.

      Nice idea. Bad execution. Too bad because I am also a Volkswagen driver And love many ads they have made in Their brands history.

      • One of the biggest suppressors of creativity is “it’s been proven it (in) research and a pure logic…etc”. The best execution usually the one with the least amount of filters between the original idea and the prospect consumer.

        Before I forget; more media is not equal to better media.

      • Jafet,

        Cutting to a white screen with the brand name isn’t really creative, is it? It’s one of the laziest techniques in advertising. And the research I mentioned is advertising tracking research, which actually is done weeks/months after the ad is on, to say whether it it impacted the brand in a positive way…so that type of research doesn’t really suppress creativity.

        Before you think I’m trying to suppress anyone’s creativity, you should read:

        Being creative is not easy, because you’ll always face criticism. I like the grid in that article because there is “good and different” and there is “different but not good” which is where I’d put the VW ad. In fact, it’s really only different for a car ad…not that different in the whole scheme of things. While I appreciate the attempt at creativity in this ad, my prediction is that the lack of brand link will force them to pull it from the air. If in a year from now, if I’m wrong feel free to tell me.

        As for the better media, that’s sort of covered in the article. If it were me, I would have done a 60 which would have slowed down the spot, drawing even more attention, and giving yourself some added room in the back end of the spot to transition it to VW and transition it again towards the internet. And having the 60 would likely get more sharing. I know 60s aren’t done much, but for a very emotional and new campaign, it’s a good investment. I once did an 89 at the movie theatres, which actually caused them to change the rules of theatres to cap it at 60. Here’s the link:

  2. Ignoring history makes for poor strategy. VW has failed at most marketing since the original Beetle. Look it up, they nearly had to leave the US market after inventing the economy car sevment. They are just now getting to the growth opportunity. Wasting $ on crazy ads such as this will be a costly folly. The strategy is good, VW makes you smile. The execution should is ridiculous. Ok people in the as are happy, but they look like Chris Rock just told a great joke–you enjoy a car you don’t fall down laughing over a car unless it just broke down for the 10th time in 8 days-and it belongs to somebody else. Pop quiz: what was the last car mfr to run a commercial with no car? Hint: 25 years later they still haven’t fully recovered. Answer: Infiniti
    Thanks for posting, LD71 😀

  3. It’s supposed to show that they care about making your life full of happiness with its cares. Yes it’s kinda cheesy but I love that commercial it makes me laugh and I have the question of how they get people to laugh

  4. Shiuld it be comparison between manufacturer brands, such as among Honda, Toyota, VW…or Benz and BMW? or comparison in product lines, models? such as Audi A8 vs. BMW 7 series, Honda Accord vs Nissan Infiniti?

    • Car comparisons in Tier 1 advertising has been in existence for a while; car publications in particular focus in this type of content through side-to-side tests. A good example is the Audi vs. BMW battle. The reason is simple; while Audi has been able to take over many markets from BMW, most notably the European market, the US has been a struggle at a time when there is a goal of world dominance by VW’s head office. I would rather let the brand build its reputation on its own merits, especially in this case, where Audi’s success in the 2.0T A4, its being mimicked by BMW with its own 4 cylinder turbo version model 3. In addition BMW owners and want-to-be owners have seen Audi being presented on many occasions as a comparo winner over BMW on Car & Driver, Road & Track and Automotive magazine, thus building curiosity for a test drive that could very well change the configuration of their garage. Let’s follow this case, it will provide great car marketing insight for the future.

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