Jan. 31, 2012 at 7:43 AM ET
Volkswagen won the hearts of the viewing public during last year's Super Bowl with a Star Wars-themed ad. This year the automaker returns to the galaxy far, far away — all the way to Tatooine.
(For those of you who don't know, that’s Luke Skywalker’s home planet from the first movie, which is now called Episode IV, since it turned out to be the first one after the trilogy that set up the original three. For those of you who don’t know who Luke Skywalker is, we can’t help you.)
The German automaker isn’t giving much of anything away about its spot, except for an online teaser to set the mood and a few still photos of the eventual spot that looks as if it was shot in the Mos Eisley cantina.
(For those of you who don’t know, Mos Eisley is where the bar (or cantina) where Obi-Wan and Luke hired Han Solo and Chewie. Again, if you don’t know who Chewie is, we’re somewhat surprised you’re still reading.)
The ad features the company’s iconic Beetle, and that somehow winds up in the cantina. The set was reproduced from the original set designs used in “A New Hope.”
(For those of you who don’t know, that’s what the original Star Wars was retitled after the prequel trilogy was announced. And now we will stop with this tired joke.)
“The cantina was completely recreated. It had to be rebuilt,” said Tim Mahoney, chief marketing officer of Volkswagen.
“It’s a nod to equity from the interest last year,” Mahoney said, referring to the ad titled “The Force,” which showed a tyke in a Darth Vader outfit stalking around his suburban home attempting, unsuccessfully, to move objects with his mastery of Jedi powers.
After almost giving up, the kid tries his luck on his dad’s Jetta, which to his amazement starts. Cut to Dad, who is holding the key fob, having punched the remote control “start” button.
The ad topped almost all critics’ lists and virtually every user survey of favorite ads from last year's Super Bowl broadcast.
“The Force” was also unusual in that Volkswagen debuted the ad online days before the game, as the carmaker will with the new spot. Most advertisers keep their ads secret until game time. This year Volkswagen also has released a “teaser” commercial that has dogs barking out the Star Wars theme.
The practice (releasing ads early, not singing dogs) has become commonplace among advertisers this year.
“When you think about the costs associated with it, it can get pretty expensive if you put all your eggs in one basket,” Mahoney said, referring to the sky-high cost of Super Bowl ads, which can cost up to $4 million for 30 seconds of air time, not including production costs. The cantina spot will be 60 seconds.
In the world of macho car ads, Volkswagen seems as if it’s trying to set itself apart by not hitting viewers over the head with horsepower and 0-to-60 times.
Fanciful spots like cantina “are about, 'Can I imagine VW being a brand for me?'” Mahoney said. Today's car buyer can find the “nuts and bolts” of performance elsewhere, he said.
Mahoney was similarly secretive about the automaker’s relationship with Lucasfilms, which is highly protective of the Star Wars brand.
“It’s either worth it or it’s not,” Mahoney said. “Our relationship has been very fair. It’s win-win in every way.”
What some other advertisers have planned:
The Super Bowl, featuring the New York Giants vs. New England Patriots in between the ads, is Sunday on NBC. (Msnbc.com is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC Universal.)