Super Bowl commercials: Talk to the Volkswagen ad creators

Feb 06, 2012

You know the Volkswagen 2012 Super Bowl commercial? The one with the dog? Who thought that up?

These guys did.

Meet Michael Kadin and Matt Ian, the brains behind Volkswagen's 2012 Super Bowl commercial. Live chat with them about what they think were the best and worst Super Bowl commercials in 2012 and of all time. They'll also chat about the commercial they created for Volkswagen, how they came up with the idea and more.

Submit questions, comments and opinions now.


Volkswagen Super Bowl commercial:

See how Volkswagen made the commercial, view photos and more here.

Hi. I'm jumping in. My name is Matt Ian, I'm one of the Group Creative Directors on VW here at Deutsch LA. My partner, Michael Kadin should be jumping on in a moment.

Hello everyone,

I'm Michael Kadin, Matt Ian's Group Creative Director on Volkswagen. Happy to talk with anyone regarding yesterday's Super bowl commercials.

Does a well received creative ad somehow translate into better sales for the product? Do the VW execs ever ask when reviewing your work "How does this sell cars?"

Short answer, yes. I strongly believe that good creative work sells product. But that doesn't mean good creative work is always "hard sell". When you see an ad like the VW Superbowl spot, it may not flog the specifics of the car very hard, but it is an integral part of the brand story. A brand is just a personality. And, just like a person, we love a brand depending on how it behaves in the world. (Also, The Force, last year's VW spot with the little Vader kid, did help give the Passat a record sales year.)

This one is good, but the one with the kid in the shopping cart car is bloody brilliant. Was that you as well? All in all, however VW commericals are the best car commercials around.

Thank you very much for the compliment.

DeutschLA did produce that spot as well. It's called "Small World" and was produced as part of our safety campaign.

It also had music by "The Cramps" which is hard to beat. How great is a client that lets you use that music for a family safety spot?!

So, this was an ad for diet dog food?

Funny. That part of this training regimine actually ended up on the cutting room floor. Really, though, what's the most important part of a successful diet? Not the food. It's the motivation.

Two of my favorite ads were the VW dog and the Mr. Quiggles for Sketchers---maybe all companies should just run ads with lots of dogs. Though leave it to doritos to have the dog kill cats.

Dogs are a fairly common theme. What's not to love. The big difference is how you use them.

For Volkswagen, it was very important not to go too broad in our story telling because that is not the voice of our brand. For Sketchers it was all about making an impression in the Super bowl and not really worrying the day after. Both approaches can work.

The Force was brilliant. My 8 year-old son often "uses the Force" to open the motion-sensor doors at the grocery, so that commercial really hit home. Who was the actress who played the mother? Her non-verbal communication was excellent. Sucking the inside of her cheek as if she licked the peanut butter from the knife while making the kid's sandwich was subtle and superb.

Can't give you the actor's name.


I believe it's called "method acting." Thankfully we used creamy and not crunchy peanut butter.

By far, the worst commercial was the one that found humor in a dog killing cats. Just plain sick.

That commercial seems fairly polarizing. Michael and I were in a room of people who laughed out loud when it aired yesterday. But there is an element of cynisim to it. The humor is dark. We always have to consider that when we make communications for VW. That's not our brand. But Doritos can perhaps afford to be edgier. A VW is a much more considered purchase than a bag of Doritos.

Seriously, haven't we seen enough of Betty White?

The way Snickers used Betty White was brilliant. I still bow to that commercial every time I see it. The trick is how to be the next brand to use her in such an inventive way. That one is always tough.

I loved the commercial with all the old cartoon characters. I always loved Quick Draw McGraw and Top Cat

That seemed to be the power of that spot: it not only expanded on the brand equity of Snoopy, a cartoon character, it tapped into the nostalgia that people of insurance-buying age have. I don't remember seeing Spongebob in there. I'm sure that's by design. It's meant for people my age who are starting families. Those are the cartoon characters I grew up with.

I watched your commercial several times over the last week, and had to ask. I enjoyed last year's 'Mini-Darth' commercial, and I enjoyed the dog section of the ad, but the end bit seemed a bit tacked on, for lack of a more positive way of putting it. Was there some particular reason why that last section was added in, rather than just extending the humorous bit of the dog getting in shape? Was there some intention to cross-promote the re-release of the Star Wars movie in 3-D, but a complete lack of mention regarding the intent of that segue? Pin me as 'confused'....

The big debate for the client and the agency is whether to leverage the Star Wars connection after last year's success. After months and months of creating concepts with and without the Star Wars theme, we all agreed it wouldn't be smart to walk away from 50,000,000 YouTube views and the equity we built up with "The Force." 

We didn't want to do a straight sequel to that spot so we had to find an inventive way to connect to Star Wars again.We thought the "Cantina" ending did a nice job of connecting you to last year's spot without being redundant. 

There was no desire to connect the ad to the new Star Wars 3-D film.

If I show the commercial over and over to my overweight dog, do you think she'll get the point?

All depends on the breed. I have a Lab and he wouldn't pay any attention to it. My partner has a Maltese and she's already doing the stairmaster. 

The guy with 2 heads, purchasing a car. Interesting, I can't remember what was being advertised.

Always the battle of "art vs commerce." How do you tell an intersting story, but get the consumer to remember who it's for.

Is it just me or is it time for Coke to come up with a new campaign? The polar bear ads (3 in all, I believe) felt tired--for that kind of money, wouldn't coke have been better running one stellar ad? Does anyone believe that Bud Light Platinum will be any better than regular Bud Light?

You bring up an interesting point: brands do struggle with  wildly popular icons and how to evolve them. Beloved characters can be a blessing and a curse. We wrestled hard with how to evolve the Little Vader kid. Ultimately, we felt that a great twist would be to not show him, but his fan club: the Cantina. (I have no idea how that new Bud Light will taste, either. But I do like beer. So I'm sure our paths will cross at some point.)

I know the commercials are one of the more popular/discussed aspects of the super bowl, but since there are so many commercials, are the products and their messages still lost in the mix? I know they spend millions to air the commercial and that doesn't even include the costs to produce the spot. I must think there is a better way to spend limited advertising dollars.

Last year, the Superbowl had 110 million viewers. I'm not sure yet what this year had. But I heard Matt Miller of the AICP on The Today Show saying there were possibly going to be more this year. It's hard to ignore an audience of more than 110 million. But because of that, you're going to be in there, competeing with a lot of brands who want to break through. So you're going to need to do something pretty amazing, creative and entertaining to break through yourself.

One thing I like about the VW commercials (and the Audi commercial using the great Echo and the Bunnymen song) is that they are actually creative. The Teleflora commercial, for example, 'give and you shall receive' just seems easy and not creative at all. The GoDaddy commercials are just stupid. I know 'sex sells' but does the ad industry get that it's just boring at this point? I say this as a guy who likes looking at Victoria Secret's models. PS Budweiser sucked yesterday. They need a new agency.

Thank you very much.

I think commercials are like songs or films. The good ones tell stories that make an impression on you because because of the humanity and understanding of the human condition. They're so relatable you almost feel like they've been written for you or someone you know.

Budweiser is welcome to call us. We love beer and drink a ton of it around here.

I would think that the record Passat sales had more to do with the massive price cut.

VW made a lot of smart business decisions that helped drive those sales.

Tim Mahoney (the CMO) was interviewed by The Washington Post and said that last year's Super bowl ad helped build awareness and boost sales.

You need both.

So, what do you guys think of this year's automotive rallying cry from VW's competitor? And while you're at it - the Matthew Broderick spots revisting Ferris Bueller?

I thought both of those spots were massively provocative. The former had a powerful, and ever-so-slightly political message. But it definitely broke through and had a distinct POV that felt like it came from that brand. Ballsy. The Ferris spot was less controversal, and more entertaining. I loved Ferris as a kid and was entertained by story. But I will say this: I felt that The Clint spot felt more like a communication for Chrysler than Ferris felt like a communication for Honda.

Why do we not see such creative and humorous commercials the rest of the year? Isn't it worthwhile to advertisers to put more effort into the commercials they do on other programs? And why not at least replay the commercials from the Superbowl more often later in the year, even if advertisers can't constantly come up with new good material?

That's a great question and one that we get asked all the time. 

Thankfully with a client like Volkswagen they task us to be strategic and creative with everything we do. They want an in-store door cling to be great, so when we start working on something like a television commercial it better be great. Our Super bowl spot will continue to play througout the year without the "Cantina" ending.

Other advertisers may have different objectives with their advertising.

Are you surprised by ranking so well in all those consumer polls? Did you know you had a winner?

Everything Michael and I do is supremely brilliant, creating brand communications comes super easy to us and we're not surprised in the least! Ah, if only that were true. No one knows exactly how these will go. But if you're true to your brand, if you understand your brand backwards and forwards, and then you create a piece of communication that is honest with your audience and doesn't underestimate their intelligence, then that's usually  a good start to having a great ad.

Not a question, just a comment. Thank you for your funny and quirky ads. Most of all, thank you for not using the dad-as-idiot or mom-as-overbearing tropes. I get really tired of seeing one group disparaged in order to elevate the group the uses/likes the product. By the way, I'm on my 14th VW. I've always loved those cars.

That's awesome. Thank you so much for the kind words.

How has the popularity of YouTube, FB, and perhaps Twitter changed how Super Bowl ads are leveraged on behalf of your clients?

It's a brave new world out there right now. Gone are the days of just releasing your commercial on Super bowl day. With the aforementioned resources available, you can get 10 million views before you even get to Super bowl Sunday. It's completely changed how we think about the work. 

Last year we released "The Force" four days before the game and had almost 10 million views. This year most of the advertisers jumped on that trend as well so we needed to push it even farther. Our solution was to create a teaser for the spot that was released 10 days out. We had almost 10 million views on that before the game.

When done right, all that exposure gets more people on your side when it runs in the game.


Did you two do the Pink Moon VW commercial? I know that was a long time ago. I loved that one. Also, what are your favorite spots from other teams? I love the George Clooney Danish commercial a few months ago...brilliant!

Pink Moon is one of our favorites, too. But alas, we cannot claim responsibility for it. That was done when the account was at Arnold. What a great commercial. Interesting bit of trivia: Lance Acord was the director of photography on Pink Moon. He also directed last year's hit VW spot, The Force and This year's The Dog Strikes Back.

Thank you all for your questions. It was a pleasure answering each and every one.

Time to start on next year's commercial!

Okay. Thank you everyone. Michael and I got a kick out of this chat. Let's get together again soon. I'll bring a cheese plate.

In This Chat
Michael Kadin
Since teaming up with Deutsch LA in 2001, Michael Kadin has created brand advertising for clients such as Volkswagen, Coors Light, the California Milk Advisory Board and DIRECTV. He¹s best known for Volkswagen's "The Force," which ran in the Super Bowl in 2011 and is the most-viewed Super Bowl ad on YouTube. Prior to Deutsch LA, he worked at some of the industry¹s top agencies including BBDO, TeamOne, and DDB.
Matt Ian
"The Dog Strikes Back" is Matt¹s first Super Bowl campaign since joining Deutsch LA last year from Crispin Porter + Bogusky. Matt spent much of his career at BBH New York, where he led the work for the launch of Axe, and created Smirnoff Raw Tea¹s "Tea Partay."
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