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VW Came in Strong at Super Bowl XLV, Darth Vader Used the Force To Promote the Passat

For more than half of my life, I have been a huge Star Wars fan. The epic space saga fascinated me time and time again. It's one of the top media franchises ever, with over $70 billion in revenue since 1977. And although hardcore fans aren't exactly happy with the path it's following these days, the fictional Universe continues to expand with each new series, film, or video game.
VW Came in Strong at Super Bowl XLV, Darth Vader Used the Force To Promote the Passat 16 photos
Photo: Volkswagen
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For most fans, the original Star Wars film titled Episode IV - A New Hope is still the best one ever made. It's one of the most-watched movies of all time, alongside other productions such as the Titanic, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, and The Wizard of Oz.

Every year, people celebrate Star Wars Day on May the 4th. "May the Force be with you" is now a classic pop-culture reference. Kids and adults alike can dress up like Yoda, Darth Vader, Storm Troopers, Chewbacca, or any other character they like from the movie. And you can even get replica lightsabers from your local toy store.

That being said, the saga holds a special place in the hearts of millions if not hundreds of millions of people across the world. And that opens up an opportunity for companies looking to advertise their products.

If an automotive manufacturer shows you a simple video of their new car, you might not respond to it right away. But it's easier to create an emotional connection when you tie your product up to an existing feeling or memory. And if that's what it takes to sell more cars, they won't think twice before they go for it.

VW Came in Strong at Super Bowl XLV, Darth Vader Used the Force To Promote the Passat
Photo: Volkswagen
We've recently discussed the Super Bowl XLV, as we looked at Kia's One Epic Ride commercial featuring their third-generation Optima. Advertising at the sports event isn't cheap by any standards, but it does get the message across to a large audience. Back in 2011, it set a new record with an average of 111 million US viewers. While smaller companies opted for just one advertising slot during the show, Volkswagen went for two of them.

The Passat has been around since 1973, and some people might know it by one of its other names: Dasher, Quantum, Santana, Corsar, Magotan, or Carat. Looking back at that first generation, this model has come quite a long way.

And it has always been an important part of VW's line-up with millions of units leaving the factory floors over the past half a century. The US version was built in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and it was longer, wider, taller, and cheaper than its European counterpart. But VW had to come up with a plan to sell more of these in North America.

Creating a Super Bowl commercial seemed like the right way to go. And when you're playing at this level, you can't afford to take any chances. They needed to come up with a brilliant idea to appeal to the public. And that's where the Star Wars part of the story comes in.

VW Came in Strong at Super Bowl XLV, Darth Vader Used the Force To Promote the Passat
Photo: Volkswagen
"The Force" was described by many as one of the best automotive commercials of all time. VW decided to use its Social Media platforms to promote the video days before it would appear on TV. The 60-second version would rack up over 60 million views in a matter of years, before somehow vanishing from their official YouTube channel.

In the video, we see 6-year-old actor Max Page playing the role of a powerless Darth Vader. With the "Imperial March" by John Williams playing in the background, it's rather cute seeing him around the house trying to use the Force. It's at that age that our imagination still runs wild, and we can enjoy life on a completely different level.

But little Vader becomes sad as he notices he doesn't have any real power. At that point, his father arrives home in the brand new 2012 Volkswagen Passat. And he doesn't get a chance to lock the car, as his son runs up to him for one last go at his sci-fi fantasy. It's quite a heartwarming thing to watch really, and it's no wonder that this video was so successful in the long run.

But there was going to be some backlash as well. It took Greenpeace only a few months to come up with a short commercial of their own. And VW brought the whole thing upon themselves by associating the Passat with the Dark Side of the Force.

VW Came in Strong at Super Bowl XLV, Darth Vader Used the Force To Promote the Passat
Photo: Volkswagen
In the Greenpeace commercial, the German car manufacturer is depicted as being the Evil Galactic Empire. The Death Star appears to be orbiting Earth, and it has a huge VW logo on it to make things worse. The message the organization wanted to relay was:

"Volkswagen opposes key European laws that we need if we're going to save our planet from climate change. All is not lost. We feel the good in Volkswagen. Help us turn VW away from the Dark Side."

They even made a second episode, in which all the children wearing Star Wars costumes start dancing to the Cantina Band. We don't necessarily think that these two videos are the reason behind the removal of "The Force" commercial from official VW channels. But one thing's for sure, you'd better think about all the possible scenarios when creating a campaign of this magnitude.

The Beetle commercial was a bit more relaxed from that point of view, and people didn't even get to see the car during the 30-seconds video. In a sort of "Bugs Life" scenario, we see a black beetle speeding through the forest with the hit song "Black Betty" playing in the background.

Some of you might recognize this song from the soundtrack of Need for Speed Underground 2, as played by Spiderbait. The Beetle video wasn't as complex as the Passat one, but then again it wasn't going to be the star of the show either way.

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About the author: Dragos Chitulescu
Dragos Chitulescu profile photo

The things Dragos enjoys the most in life are, in no particular order: cars, motorcycles, diecast cars, and drifting. He's seen (and driven) many vehicles since he started his writing career back in 2009, but his garage currently houses a 1991 Mazda RX-7 FC3S Turbo II and a 1999 Suzuki SV650-S.
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