What We Learned From VW's Super Bowl Success

If you were one of the millions watching last Sunday's Super Bowl, you probably saw the ad from Volkswagen that showcased a pint-sized Darth Vader using "The Force" on the new 2012 Passat. While Volkswagen was one of several automakers stepping back into the Super Bowl ad game, it was the only one that created a campaign that resonated with a key consumer demographic: Moms.

Yes, we have all read the research that shows a large percentage of Super Bowl viewers are women, but this sporting spectacle has also become one of the biggest family events of the year -- meaning many of those women are also moms. "More automotive advertisers should take the VW higher road on Super Bowl advertising as it sends a message that women and families are important viewers," says Jody DeVere, CEO of

Even if your brand failed to make an appearance during the 2011 Super Bowl, there are several key marketing-to-mom lessons we can all learn from Volkswagen's success:

Focus on Family. Yes, resonating with mom is a key component to any marketing-to-mom strategy, but if your brand can create a spot that resonates with mom, dad and kids -- you've hit the marketing-to-mom trifecta. Developing a campaign with universal family appeal does more than just bring dads (and kids and even grandparents) into the conversation, it actually gives mom the opportunity to use your campaign as a way to connect with her own family.



Tell an Emotional Story. The VW ad resonates with moms "because of the whimsical and heart-touching emotional story it tells," says DeVere, and that goes a long way with mom consumers. "Commercials like this warm the heart, and allow women to view your brand as smart, savvy and family/mom-friendly."

Appeal to "Shared Experiences." Not only do moms have shared parenting experiences, but they also have shared generational experiences -- and there are moments when those two worlds collide. What mom hasn't watched her own children run around in super hero costumes and princess crowns and not been reminded of her own childhood experience of pretending to be Luke Skywalker or Princess Leia? That is powerful messaging that transcends beyond parenthood.

Does all this really work? It appears to be working for Volkswagen. Even before the first second of this commercial made its way to the TV screens of households throughout the U.S., the spot had gone viral -- with some estimations showing it garnered close to 8 million views before kick-off and continues to grow its viewership even after the final field goal.

It even made its way onto the top of almost every single Super Bowl ad review list, leaving Ryan Rudnansky, featured columnist for Bleacher Report, to state, "The ad is not only ingenious in setting up things for the car at the climax, but also strikes a nerve (or a funny bone) with the general public, something all great ads do."

Especially ads that win with moms.

This Just In: Top Adult Breakfast Cereals
1 Cheerios
2 Honey Nut Cheerios
3 Special K
4 Honey Bunches of Oats
5 Frosted Mini Wheats
6 Fiber One and Rice Krispies
7 Corn Flakes
8 Raisin Bran
9 Post Grape-Nuts
10 Post Raisin Bran
11 Chex and Kix
Source: Brand Keys Customer
Loyalty Engagement Index 2011

8 comments about "What We Learned From VW's Super Bowl Success ".
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  1. Gerry Myers from Advisory Link, February 8, 2011 at 10:07 a.m.

    Great article. Right on target as was the VW Darth Vader commercial. Many brands would do well to consider your advice outside of the automotive industry. While this ad is a top favorite, the Super Bowl did have other winning ads, but many losers as well. Check out my blog at or click on Articles at and see my last four Super Bowl Ad Reviews, from a woman's perspective.

  2. Kevin Burke from WholesomeOne, February 8, 2011 at 10:51 a.m.

    Nice breakdown on the ad Patti. I really liked most of it.

    I seem to be in the minority on this the conclusion, I felt very uncomfortable to have him standing in front of the car while it was running.

    That detail ruined it for me.

  3. Melissa Carraher from Zeitgeist Marketing & Advertising, February 8, 2011 at 1:28 p.m.

    I disagree. Dad was the hero of the Vader ad, and that's critical to VW because they have such a feminine image with the Beetle and Jetta - women and gay men. Star Wars was the perfect appeal to the 30-45 yr old male with kids. His childhood was shaped by Star Wars, but he's not a kid anymore. He's got young kids and he's a full on dad. But, he's still cool -- he can play a harmless prank on his kid that makes his wife laugh and gives his kid a thrill. It's like Dove Men+ Care and the attempt to tell guys it is okay to be adult men - you're still smart, strong and sexy. You're just older, but you have more confidence and influence.

  4. Lauren Whitman from KidSkills, February 8, 2011 at 1:45 p.m.

    Nice analysis. I loved this ad and reminisced with my 15 year old about how much he wished his dad could make that happen. We totally connected (now he wants a passat). The moms I have spoken with loved the ad and the break from hard driving beer and junk food ads. That's probably one of the biggest reasons it stood out so much. This ad mirrored a real life situation that any parent can connect with (and I believe mom and dad were co-conspirators in the deception, good teamwork)and that's what makes it memorable. The 60 second version that is on the web is a better version, just sayin'.

  5. Jamie Dunham from Jamie Dunham | Brand Solutions, February 8, 2011 at 1:50 p.m.

    Patti, great article. It seems that the gimmicky, celebrity-studded, slapstick spots didn't fare as well as those that were simple and held a mirror to our own reality.

  6. Patti Minglin from Go Girl Communications, February 8, 2011 at 1:59 p.m.

    Thanks to everyone for sharing your insights. I agree with Melissa that this ad had special appeal to dad--and moms love that! Because dads continue to play such an important role in the family, moms really likes brands that include him in on the conversation. I think that's what gave this such universal appeal and really helps solidify the brands image with families overall, as noted by Lauren's comment that her son now wants a Passat.

  7. Catherine Maino from Mosaic, Innovations in Marketing, February 8, 2011 at 3:25 p.m.

    A great opportunity to talk about elements that are imperative to market to moms AND dads. Marketing to the emotion of both parents, you can't lose! I would agree with Melissa, it definitely has a target demo of men 30-45. However pulling at the heart strings of any woman seeing the awe of that boy surprised by his own power certainly caught the mom's eye. Personally I'm not sure if I agree that VW has such a strong feminine image but it certainly won't hurt them! Women are the most powerful buying demo and if you're not marketing to them, you should be!

  8. Mark Burrell from Tongal, February 8, 2011 at 5:30 p.m.

    What I worry about here is the same thing that happens in Hollywood. People try to make a formula and quantify an emotional response. While all the factors mentioned are important, I think most would agree that this ad worked because it was incredible storytelling and brilliantly directed. In fact, Deutsch deserves more credit here!

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