The history of Volkswagen is littered with great cars and even greater ads. For every brilliant model, there was a brilliant, funny, self-aware ad to sell it.
Lists are exclusionary at the best of times, but when it comes to this one, it’s especially so. Still, even an incomplete list of great VW ads is full of entertainment. Here are 10 of our favorite Volkswagen commercials.
The Lunar Landing Module
No conversation about Volkswagen advertising can avoid its legendary 1960s print campaign. These ads wasted space, insulted the product, and assumed a level of wit from its audience that would have been considered poisonous under any other circumstance. But that’s what made them so special. Most are great, and none is more legendary than the famous “Lemon” ad, but for our money, it’s this ad comparing the Beetle to the Lunar Landing Module that’s the best. Funny, self-deprecating, and deeply connected to spirit of the times, this ad exemplifies everything that’s great about VW’s ads.
Lest you think that Volkswagen’s print ads stopped being great in the ‘60s, this recent one for the Volkswagen Up! Shares the wry wit and self-deprecating charm of the ads that made Volkswagen famous. The series is arresting thanks to its frank design and massive copy and doesn’t promise anything the car can’t deliver. More than that, though, it feels like a breath of fresh air. It takes the standard ad format of vaguely promising virility and answers to life’s ineffable questions and flips it on its head.
Fast Just Got Faster
Do you need more proof that Volkswagen’s still got print game? Here. Have an ostrich wearing a cheetah print hoodie. Apart from being silly, it’s also a great way of calling a hopped up Scirocco GTS fast without calling the regular Scirocco slow. And it does all that with only one picture, four words, and five syllables.
But it wasn’t just in print that VW excelled. The manufacturer is also famous for its TV ads, like this one from 1964. The ad’s premise “Have you ever wondered how the snow plow driver drives to the snow plow?” is brilliant in its simplicity. And the punchline is just as good: “This one drives a Volkswagen.” It took everything that was great about VW’s print ads and applied it to TV.
Volkswagen has continued to excel on TV, like in this ad that combines the medium of print with TV. Like all great jokes, this Polo commercial gives you enough information to stay interested, but not enough to figure out the punchline until it’s delivered.
Air Conditioning Dog
This ad shares its excellent structure with the above commercial, but adds a crucial element that pops up in a lot of VW ads: an animal. Pets are cute, lovable, and we form emotional bonds with them quickly. Volkswagen essentially presaged the internet — or the pet-meme making machine, as it’s also known — with its pet ads.
First shown during the 2012 Super Bowl, this minute-long TV spot takes the adorableness of animals and turns it up to 11 by using a kid in a costume. As Don Draper will tell you, nostalgia is one of the most powerful tools in an advertiser’s toolbox, and this ad has that in spades, mostly because we all go batty for anything Star Wars-related. I think we all wish we knew how this kid felt when he turned on the Passat, even if it’s just for a second.
Singing in the Rain
Not all ads have to be funny. You can surprise and entertain an audience by showing them something familiar and changing it, bonus points if that’s a metaphor for the car you’re selling. This ad takes the classic titular scene from Singin’ in the Rain and remixes it, just like VW did with the Golf.
Old Lady Driven
Not all ads have to be funny, but it’s good if they are. I think we can all agree that seeing a granny do non-granny things is the highest form of entertainment. This isn’t just a cheap gimmick, though. Every scene serves the punchline. You can trust a Golf even if it’s driven by a grandma who’s learning Gymkhana.
Unpimp Your Auto
This series of TV spots first ran in 2006. The ads, first of all, are superbly cast with Peter Stormare (of The Big Lebowski fame) in the lead role. Secondly, they did a good job of reading the times as Xzibit fatigue was taking hold of the nation. The ad also takes advantage of the Golf’s image as the understated performance car. And finally, there’s the good clean fun of a silly German accent.
Of course, any list of Volkswagen ads is necessarily incomplete. After decades of excellent commercials, not everything can fit here, but we hope you enjoyed these great ads.