It all started innocently enough: A friend posted an article on my Facebook page about the latest VW ads starring the Golden Sisters. She wrote, “I love these! Have you seen them?”
I had indeed. Now the very same sister set is promoting the local VW retailer's year-end sales (which one of them pronounces “rear end”) over and over.
Honestly, I had to answer "Do not love." And that begat a very long and lively string of responses in which the commentariat seemed to feel very strongly about the work, declaring either love or hate, with very few in the “meh” middle.
But frankly, in an age when most spots are either instantly forgettable or swatted away online, why has this campaign — with the cawfee-talk-ish sistahs promoting a car that’s ostensibly for the youte market — sustained this kind of passionate response over many months?
Well, one answer might be the sheer shock of juxtaposing the old-school jokes and no-tech human values in commercials that usually are a repository of cool.
Maybe we’re sick of cool. That, and we seem to be having a grandma moment in the culture.
Alternately, “It’s open season on yentas,” one friend cracked, also mentioning the BMW spots from a few months back that feature a brutally self-involved back-seat driver mother-in-law (and she rolls from two rows back.)
In these spots, from her way-way-back seat, with her son, daughter-in-law and young grandkids in the car, the mother-in-law loves to talk about her sex life. In one spot, she sniffs that the interior seems rather luxurious, and her daughter-in-law, trying to please, tells her that they got the special package. Which naturally leads her to say, “Your father loved me in leather. He was a very dominant man.” That’s a funny line, well delivered.
Still, we have seen this sort of monster mama caricature before. (Woody Allen, anyone?) And why would a buyer want to associate purchasing a Beemer with that sort of withering presence? After all, this is not any car — it’s the Ultimate Driving Machine! Therefore, isn’t most of that carefully built–up brand DNA eclipsed by the thought of the Ultimate Nagging Machine? Mother!
But at least the three sisters in the VW spots (and they are indeed siblings) tend to fight (and curse) amongst themselves. Although they do love to flirt with (very) young men.
Before seeing these women in the VW spots, I had some vague recollection of them, since my mother’s family comes from the Bronx and I recognized the accent. But I didn’t know they had a name, “the Golden Sisters” and were such a thing.
The oldest sister, the no-nonsense Mary Bartnicki, 85, is actually the most outspoken, and as with most oldest children, loves to tell the younger ones to “Shut up!” One of the younger twins — 75-year-old Teresa (“Terry”) Dahlquist — is actually a talent agent and tends to overact, while her twin, Josie Cavalluzzi, sometimes plays second banana. And that makes for some comedy sparks right there.
Born with the maiden name of Conticchio in the fair borough with the “The” in the name, all three have maintained their brash Bronx-ishness despite living in California’s San Fernando Valley since the 1960s.
Two years ago, the sisters became the unlikely insta-stars of the Internet, when a video of them reacting to watching the Kim Kardashian/Ray J sex tape on “the computer” (as Mary calls it) went viral. It reportedly got two million hits in 24 hours — all by people under the age of 50, according to Google Analytics.
Without showing any of what they are looking at — the pre-Mrs. Kanye’s XXX-rated stuff — the sisters’ facial reactions and judgments are priceless. They are given to play-by-play analysis like, “It’s got a purple tip!” and “She's just laying there." Perhaps the funniest thing is that they don’t seem unduly shocked.
That video led to representation, other appearances, and even a reality series on the Oprah Winfrey Network.
So by the time the creative powers at VW agency Deutsch LA alighted on them, the sisters already had a large Internet following, (which Google had proven was young. )
The agency started with making a few low-cost social videos with the sisters, for Golf TDI clean diesel (mostly a young person’s car.).
Titled “Old Wives' Tales about Diesel,” these made clever thematic sense, given that Mary, Josie, and Terry are the new version of old wives. (Mary is a widow, but a merry one.) Apparently the spots are lightly scripted,and the sisters improvise the rest.
I like these — especially the one that destroys the myth that “Diesel stinks.” Sister Mary does not mince words: “It smells like marinated camel crap!” she says about the car. Turns out it’s a dog, Tuna, who “needs a bath” — and not the gas.
The VW dealers went so crazy for the sisters’ work that they wanted to use the sisters in the year-end “rear end” sale event for the Passat, and also decided to double down by running snippets of the Diesel work on TV.
It’s refreshing to see older women in commercials that have nothing to do with baking, grandchildren, adult diapers, dentures or retirement homes; on the other extreme, these three don’t look like Jane Fonda. They are vital souls, raring to go. Ironically with the giant “rear end” media budget behind them, they might be getting overexposed. Still, they have grown on me from my initial repulsion, now that I know more about them.
Take my Passat, please.