It’s the ad generating the most buzz this day following the Super Bowl. The Volkswagen Passat commercial featuring a little boy dressed as Darth Vader attempting to use “The Force” to affect things around the house. After several failed tries, the boy rushes outside to his dad arriving home from work. He sidesteps a welcome home hug from dad and heads straight to the Passat. Using all of the force he can muster, the boy stretches out his hands and…the car starts! The boy is, of course, startled and amazed, looking to see if anyone witnessed the miracle. Only the viewer (and the parents) hold the key to the secret: Dad has the keyless starter and activates it from the kitchen window.
What makes the ad (which is currently the top-rated Super Bowl commercial on Hulu with a 95% “like” rating) so successful? Viewers can’t help but smile or laugh at the sort of slice-of-life montage of the boy’s unsuccessful attempts, particularly when we get to see the apathetic dog unwilling to be swayed by his master’s attempts. However, the ad doesn’t attempt to go too far with the number of “failures,” allowing the viewer to track easily with the pacing of the ad.
A dad doing the little thing to make his kid’s day better is something that resonates with the parent or inner child in all of us, both rationally (we can relate to it and the message is believable and important) and emotionally (we all sympathize with the kid’s sadness and share in his joy when he tastes victory). Clearly, the brand is the hero, and is neatly integrated into the storyline. If the Passat didn’t have keyless ignition, the spot would not have been possible.
But Volkswagen’s success does not end here. Articles are already circulating in the media about the boy whole played Darth Vader. In real life, the little boy has a heart defect. It seems the boy who had his dream come true in the commercial gets to play out the same storyline in the public eye, which makes the brand a hero that transcends even the ad space. That type of buzz is worth the $5-6 million it cost to air the ad.
So I guess what Obi-Wan Kenobi said in Star Wars still holds true: “The Force is what gives the Jedi his powers.” Volkswagen used The Force in its advertising and beyond – will you?
Adam Page is a Senior Research Analyst at Ameritest and enjoys using his power for good and not evil.
Sonya Duran is an Associate Research Director at Ameritest and enjoys the opposite. Just kidding.