The Ad That Changed Super Bowl Commercials Forever
In 2011, on the Wednesday before the Super Bowl, a new Volkswagen commercial popped up on YouTube. “The Force” featured a kid ambling about his house dressed as Star Wars’ Darth Vader while attempting to use the Dark Side on everything from the family dog to the new Passat sitting in the driveway.
VW’s marketing team also knew they were facing big obstacles on game day: the company hadn’t run a Super Bowl ad in over a decade, and the two commercials they planned to run would be competing against multiple spots from larger automakers with more ad dollars. So they decided that one possible way to stand out was to release “The Force” early, even though it defied what was widely accepted as smart advertising strategy around the biggest ad day of the year.
“It’s hard to think about now, but at the time, it was not the conventional wisdom to air or put online a commercial that was meant for the Super Bowl,” says Tim Ellis, who was the head of marketing for Volkswagen North America at the time and is now the chief marketing officer for video game maker Activision. “The wisdom was you hold it, because you would get the most value out of that impression by waiting.”
Ellis says it was a controversial decision to run it early, even among the ad agency and VW’s marketing team. “But I thought if everything goes right, this thing will catch fire and go viral,” he says.
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