The beloved Beetle receives a well deserved send-off in The Last Mile from Volkswagen

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The beloved Beetle receives a well deserved send-off in The Last Mile from Volkswagen

The Background

The VW Beetle - incepted during Nazi Germany and a mainstay of post-war culture. 

The new Beetle released in 1998 may have tarnished the workhorse’s image for some but the original has to be up there with some of the most iconic car designs of the 20th century. 

It lacked the panache of Aston Martin DB5s or Ford GTs but made up for it by being the reliable enabler of driving for the masses. What strikes as even more impressive for the VW Beetle is that it was a success stateside, the land of Cadillacs and Mustangs with bench seating and overly powerful engines for a country with comparatively low speed limits. 

And perhaps that’s where advertising comes into play in the story of the Beetle. 

One of the most famous print ads of all-time features the trusty German companion. “Think Small” challenged the US consumer to consider the simplicity and form of the cheap car derided for being ugly. Not only did DDB’s ads for the Beetle endear the car to the consumer, they helped drive loyalty to VW (this reference to the lunar landings being a particular favourite incarnation). 

And so, with a black mark still present in the US from the emissions scandal, it’s the turn of advertisers to again help increase brand perception. 

The Beetle’s final hurrah, front and centre of a campaign when it’s no longer available to buy. 

The Big Idea

The Last Mile is a tribute to the VW Beetle, marking its place in history as the model is taken out of production completely. 

The animated spot is set to The Beatles’ ‘Let it Be’ performed by Pro Musica Youth Chorus children's choir and follows the car’s journey over the lifespan of a man. 

Cultural references run hand-in-hand with the car and man’s story over the 90 seconds creating what many have described as an emotional farewell from VW.  

What They Did

The full 90 seconds is animated and set to the track by the model’s namesake. The limited colour palette used is a nod to the popular colours the car was produced in over the decades. 

And then there’s the cultural references throughout, including Kevin Bacon as Ren in Footloose; Think Small and Lemon adverts both getting referenced on placards; and Andy Warhol grabbing a photo as it drives by.

Although the ad is centred on the VW’s outgoing legend there are references to the future, from wind turbines symbolising a cleaner energy and the closing imagery and words “Where one road ends, another begins. Drive Bigger.”

The ad was then placed on three of Times Square’s giant screens as well as across various prime TV spots over NYE. 

The Review

To me this seems a suitably celebratory way to send-off a car that has had a lifespan across so many cultural and human moments. And a way to set the brand apart in the competitive US automotive market.  

The style of the ad too evokes the golden age of the car, when “Think Small” and “Lemon” defined the Beetle. From the choice of music down to the colour tones representing the popular colours, it’s a classy and well thought through ode to the Beetle. 

Some may say to advertise a car on its way out is in some way foolhardy when the brand is still making up ground on pre-emissions scandal sales figures. By going back to what made VW great for American families of the past helps setup a new perception of the brand more aligned with past successes than failures. 

And as the main protagonist of the animation symbolises, this is the warm-hearted granddad of car ads. 

That’s one way to have people forget your prior misdemeanours. 

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Kevan Barber

Kevan Barber

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