On Monday morning, Feb. 7, 2011, Deutsch LA’s creative team for the Volkswagen account woke up in a post Super Bowl daze — their ad, featuring a pint-sized Darth Vader, had just dominated the most competitive advertising event of the year.”I don’t care what people say about Chrysler’s ad,” Mark Hunter, the Chief Creative Officer at Deutsch LA, told Business Insider, referring to Eminem’s appearance in the other carmaker’s Detroit-themed ad. “[‘The Force’] killed the Super Bowl last year.”
The commercial not only “killed” the Super Bowl, which drew an audience of 111 million viewers, but it had an afterlife and went on to win awards, get re-shot twice in Europe, and continue proliferating online.
“It’s like, we thought it would be successful for sure, but not almost 50 millions on YouTube a year later,” Michael Kadin, the executive creator for the VW account, told Business Insider.
But after the euphoria wore off, a hard realisation set in: how on earth were they supposed to beat their own best work for Super Bowl XLVI?
The Pressure Is On
“To some degree, [the planning process for the next big game ad] starts when the hangover after the Super Bowl party ends … literally,” Hunter said. “It’s so much pressure, oh my God; it was that difficult second album that bands often face.”
Matt Ian, who had been working at CP&B in Boulder, Colorado when “The Force” aired, joined Deutsch LA to partner with Kadin on the Volkswagen account when the Super Bowl creative process was really heating up in July.
“I was coming into the agency after that happened and it was a very intimidating atmosphere,” Ian said. “You are going into the account that arguably did one of the greatest ads ever done. It set the bar ridiculously high. The process was long and somewhat gruelling. We couldn’t punt, we had to make it great.”
The pressure wasn’t only internal.
Kadin, who helmed both “The Force” and the 2012 ad, recalled having been confronted with near-impossible expectations on a regular basis. Coming home at 11 p.m. on a Friday from a late night creative session — it was not atypical for the team to pore over hundreds of pitches until midnight or 1 am multiple days a week — Kadin was greeted by a broken sink. When Kadin explained his rush to get into an early Saturday creative session to employees at a Los Angeles hardware store at 7 am the next day, his occupation inevitably came up in conversation.
“They asked if they’d seen any ads I’d worked on and when the mini Darth ad came up 20 people swarmed down to talk about it,” Kadin said. “One woman came down in tears.”
But the excitement quickly turned to a barrage of questions: “Well what are you doing this year? That’s so much pressure.” Etc., etc.
“It feels good in the moment, and then the panic sets in,” Kadin said. “And if 10 plumbers [speaking] Spanish are adding to the pressure that you already feel, you think, wow this [ad] really has to be good.”
While Deutsch LA knew that the ad was going to follow some precedents set by “The Force” — Kadin and Ian said there was never a question of sticking with a simple story as opposed to Super Bowl “hyperboles” of explosions and aliens and farting horses — the VW account had immense difficulty deciding how “Star Wars” and “The Force” would relate to their new ad.
“Do you replicate it or do you ignore it?” Kadin remembers asking himself and the rest of the creative team. “Yeah, there’s a Godfather 2, but there’s also a Godfather 3.”
In the end, they decided to do both.
VW released its Super Bowl 2012 spot on February 1. The beginning of the ad follows the travails of an obese dog who goes on an intense exercise and diet regimen so that he can fulfil his dreams of fitting through a dog door and chasing a VW Beetle. Then things get meta. As the ad “ends,” viewers are taken into the Star Wars Cantina turned sports bar and shown a group of aliens watching the spot. In these final 15 seconds, which will not play after the Super Bowl, the aliens have an intense debate that many game watchers will be having when the ad airs today. Who’s better: the baby Vader or the dog?
“We thought we should embrace the elephant in the room—how do you follow up the Force?” Kadin and Ian wrote B.I. in an email. “You know the conversation’s being had, and we wanted to have fun with it.”
If the ad seems disjointed, that’s because it is.
The cantina ending came first. It wasn’t until much further along in the writing process that the pudgy dog gained creative life. “We thought that dogs versus kids is always a good Super Bowl debate, and something that was likely to get talked about in a bar,” Kadin and Ian continued.
And is the dog better than the Vader kid? While their teaser of dogs barking the “Imperial March” has garnered over 11 million views on YouTube, the commercial itself has 3 million views (although it had a later release). Matthew Broderick’s recreation of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” for the Honda spot is already at 11 million.
The ruling on the ad’s success will come soon.
Although Kadin and Ian recognised that this kind of pressure beat the alternative.
“One thing we told the team a lot was that, ‘Listen, there will be a point in your career when you are working on heart-smart buttery bread and you’ll miss this.'”
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