Tough Luck

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.

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  • Robert

    Lighten up.

    This was a great ad. Period. VW should hunt down the creators and shower them with money. But they'd better hurry, or other advertisers will beat them to it.

    The negative responses were from academics (enough said) or employees without enough stroke to write from a company email account.

    Many decision makers will recognize the power of this ad.

  • PeteT

    I've spent the better part of my career as a copywriter and creative marketer. We are always trying to find ways to balance the need to grab the consumer's attention with the need to be practical and not too clever. But I can't even imagine what these two idiots were thinking when they crafed this piece. The emotions that this kind of imagery strikes with a lot of viewers must be absolutely horrible. If VW does sue them, I hope the judge orders them to clean bed pans at Walter Reid Hospital for a month.

  • Kristen Hartz

    I don't think the VW execs are to blame, but if they do profit it from it, the least they could do is give part of the proceeds to a charity or organization that works to help those who have suffered from the effects of suicide bombers. They could do something that puts a positive spin on something that is horribly wrong.

  • Jeff Harmon

    I believe that viral marketing is an important component in a brand awareness campaign. However, this ad, real or not, simply goes too far. I cannot imagine any VW execs envisioning a positive brand image result from this.