Sick joke or slick advertising? Volkswagen has finally tracked down Lee Lockwood and Dan Brooks, the London creatives responsible for a spoof car ad that has been doing the rounds via email and the Web.
And today is the deadline VW has set the pair in its demand for a formal apology for the uncommissioned, fake TV ad which stars a VW Polo and a suicide bomber. The ad ends with the VW logo and the companys current ad theme for the Polo: "Small but tough."
Is it a bad taste joke or edgy, postmodern irony?
According to the Guardian newspaper, Lockwood once worked at Ogilvy & Mather, the advertising agency behind an infamous Ford Ka viral ad that showed a bird being squashed and a cat's head being decapitated.
Whatever - VW and its advertising agency, DBB, say this latest ad is disgusting and the car-maker may sue if it doesn't get an apology plus a promise from the duo that they will neither infringe on VWs trademarks nor create or distribute any more VW work.
It has been a murky affair, yet perversely, both VW and Lockwood and Brooks stand to profit from this renegade marketing. In Europe, VW's Polo has gone under the tagline "Small but tough" for several years. In previous, official TV ad campaigns, the sweet little Polo has protected policemen in shoot-outs and stopped runaway steamrollers. Cute. But not necessarily tough.
Now thanks to this 'unofficial' ad (VW refutes conspiracy theories that the hoax may be have been an authorized, but deniable, below-the-radar marketing ploy) millions of potential car-buyers know how tough the little Polo really is.
Lockwood and Brooks, meanwhile, seem set for lucrative careers. The pair are lapping up the free publicity their creative work is receiving and have even retained the services of PR firm Hot Cherry, which is touting interviews with the duo around the media.
In January's profile of Yahoo ad boss Wenda Millard, FC senior writer Alan Deutchsmann reminds us that viral films on the Web were pioneered by the car companies - BMW to be precise, which hired acclaimed Hollywood directors to make 10-minute films starring its cars.
The Web, he says, has always had the potential for reinventing and reinvigorating advertising.
And in ways, he might have added, that we least expect it.