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Would you have sex with this car?

Car advertising is bonkers. Carmakers spend millions to run sophisticated branding campaigns that convey emotion, style, and heritage. Then the local dealers come in and crap all over it.

Take this Volkswagen ad. Something tells me nobody at VW’s national ad agency, Deutch/LA, had anything to do with this poster for a local dealer:

2012 Beetle Ad: 'Yeah... I'd tap that. Wait... Yup, I'd definitely tap that.'

This is real. It’s currently running on transit posters around New York; I took this photo yesterday on the Staten Island Ferry.

Just so we’re all on the same page: “Tap that” means “have sex with that,” usually followed by the word “ass.” I did a double-take when I saw this ad. You expect to see a sex joke used to sell body spray or energy drinks, but it’s a weird way to sell a compact car.

I have no information on how this ad came together. The picture is a product shot of the 2012 Beetle, a car not yet available. To compare, here’s how Volkswagen of America is currently advertising this car on TV. About the only thing in common is the “Das Auto” tagline:

This brand has some history. Remember from advertising school (ok, fine, from “Mad Men”) that the Beetle inspired the famous Doyle, Dane, Bernbach Volkswagen campaign of the late 1950s and 1960s. AdAge named it the best ad campaign of the 20th century. Here’s one of DDB’s classic VW Beetle ads:

DDB Lemon Volkswagen Ad

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It’s tempting to say car dealers are fools who know nothing about advertising. It’s especially tempting after you watch a beautiful piece of film like “Imported from Detroit”, and then see your local Chrysler dealer run some headache-inducing spot marred by blinking price tags, tacky transition effects, and some amped-up announcer barking about zero-percent financing.

The thing is, car dealers (and regional dealer networks) know a secret: These terrible ads sell cars. And as independent operators, they have a right and a responsibility to move vehicles off their lots using methods that work. Which is how we get this tragic compromise. The high-minded creative agencies write little 30-second poems. They care about brand perception. And the local dealers run cluttered newspaper ads trying to cram as many features of the car as possible onto a quarter page, pushing every button they can think of. They care about response.

Still, even if you’re focused purely on response and not brand perception, there are lines you shouldn’t cross. You might think the Volkswagen Beetle looks sexy (a debatable point), but please banish the thought of literally having sex with the product. This ad should never have seen the light of day. Forget tapping the car—somebody should have tapped the brakes.

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Related post: Watch Volkswagen’s “The Force” Super Bowl ad

— By Daryl Lang. Filed under Advertising, Copywriting

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