Volkswagen’s Passat TV ad showing a father and son badly tossing a ball around on a front lawn with a Passat parked in the driveway, has made our Doghouse. Das Bad. Check it out for yourself: “Playing Catch.”
(The cumulative TV commercial experience of our creative teams exceeds 2000 ads for a wide range of products and services. This one would not make our cut in this day and age. In fact, it would never make the cut. It’s insulting, degrading, and stupid.)
The first word that comes to mind about this Passat ad is “effeminate,” a word that has lost its relevance in this post Title IX world where women now equal men in sports forms and styles. Women once threw a ball awkwardly or at least differently than men. Today a woman’s fastball could strikeout many a manly guy. Title IX banned sex discrimination in schools receiving Federal financial assistance. Nowhere is the impact of this legislation more evident than in the equalization of women’s sports.
The word “faggy” would have been used to describe this ad in some quarters not too long ago, but not today. “Spastic” is another inappropriate word, but it floated out there on the first look of this awkward commercial.
One might be tempted to say that Volkswagen is not the culprit here, but their ad agency is. It’s true that ad agencies create the ad approach, but the client, approves the final product and authorizes the ad placement. Stewart Elliot, theadvertising critic for the New York Times, says, “Madison Avenue is learning a painful lesson: cutting edge advertising can slice both ways.” It’s a stretch here to say this one is “cutting edge,” but Elliot points out that other car companies, such as Ford, GM and Hyundai Motors, “have been forced recently to apologize to their customers who mounted public outcries against ads that hinged on subjects such as race, rape and suicide.”
If Passat had shown the father helping the son correct his throwing form, the underlying message of passing a car preference down from father to son would have been very effective. The father said the right things, but his mimic of his son’s form was not instructive and, in this case, destructive.
To our knowledge, Passat has neither apologized nor removed this ad. Until they do, they will stay parked in our Doghouse.