On VW's Golden Pond: The Shock Of The Old

  • by September 3, 2015

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.

19 comments about "On VW's Golden Pond: The Shock Of The Old".
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  1. Jonathan Hutter from Northern Light Health, September 3, 2015 at 3:50 p.m.

    I'm on the love side. Having moved to Maine a long time ago, anything that has people talking normally (you know, from The Bronx) gets my attention.

  2. Bruce Dundore from Lazaroff/Dundore, September 3, 2015 at 3:55 p.m.

    Honestly, I think they are amusing to watch, performances good, and I'm happy to see a older people gettting good retirement checks from the residuals. All the power to VW. 

  3. Dean Fox from ScreenTwo LLC, September 3, 2015 at 4:27 p.m.

    A major, tasteless "FAIL" for me.  The sisters are cute and terrific performers, all right, except when they are leering at the young men and their behinds.  If these were three senior men, leering at a young woman's posterior, how funny would that be? 

  4. Kenneth Hittel from Ken Hittel replied, September 3, 2015 at 4:55 p.m.

    well, being myself a "senior" who still enjoys "leering" at nice young backsides, i would posit that there's humor there, too, even if (for some) it's at the schadenfreude level. i mean, we still laught at the guy who slips on the banana peel, right? so, really, why not a chuckle here? (even if you're not from the bronx, or a senior, or appreciate young posteriors.)

  5. Dean Fox from ScreenTwo LLC replied, September 3, 2015 at 5:51 p.m.

    Perhaps, but does this crass 'humor' sell cars?  Happy leering, Ken!

  6. Barbara Lippert from, September 3, 2015 at 6:55 p.m.

    Dean, I agree with you about the leering part. It would absolutely be objectionable if it were reversed. and then there's one of them embarrassing the kid by saying, "Do you like cooguhz?" Takes some of the creepy sting out , since it sounds like a cross between the animal and "geezers."

  7. John Luma from iLumaNation, September 3, 2015 at 7:41 p.m.

    And let's not forget the (to me) strange insertion of the grandma figure in the Buick spots that have run for a long time. Aka "That's not a Buick!... Oh my."  Why the old casting in spots that clearly are aimed at attracting younger buyers? Isn't that the whole marketing purpose of Buick now? The brand has owned the 65-to-dead demo for decades, so why get in the way of the youth appeal with grandma? Ie, why preach to the converted?

  8. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, September 3, 2015 at 8:49 p.m.

    When you are all talking about it and remember what the spot was for that is stop number one on the bus. Anyone tempted to find out what the car kvelling is all about enough to go for the test drive ? That wasn't a rhetorical question. Anyone see the overall stats ? PS: A good line is a good line. Kennaherrah. pthu pthu pthu, chase away the maloika. 

  9. Claudia Caplan from MDC Partners, September 3, 2015 at 11:38 p.m.

    Chalk it up to another lazy ad trope along with stupid husbands and smart-ass children. The only other thing I would say is that if you happen to watch "Morning Joe," you see one of these spots literally every commercial break.  Talk about something with many,many mile on it!

  10. Susan Klein from Oculus Marketing, September 4, 2015 at 12:32 a.m.

    What a surprsingly fraught topic! Once again a wonderfully provacative piece of writing that surpasses its subject in terms of wit and originalty. So sez I, a member of the 'commentariat' -- another great Lippertism!

  11. Neilan Tyree from The Propeller Group, September 4, 2015 at 7:05 a.m.

    I'm loudly casting MY vote with the "LOVE IT" team. And am actually quite surprised at the vehement level of protests about the campaign. In fact, I was planning to send a note to leadership friends at the agency just yesterday to praise them to the MOON for what I think has been a stand-out campaign.  

    The year-end campaign that REALLY gets on my nerves? The one from my old buddies at TBWA | Chiat | Day in Los Angeles that starts with the 20something male spokesmodel stepping in front of an oncoming car at the onset.  Talk about stupid!  (I worked on that pitch a million years ago so was sad that my response to their work this year has been... "Yawn.")

    MAIN thing I still plan to praise the agency for (that email WILL go out today -- but now I'll be more informed!) is the casting. Not only for the three gals, but for the incredibly cute fellas.

    Hey, everybody!  It's charming and funny. And I enjoy seeing each of the spots every time they run. Sorry if others see the work as "another lazy ad trope" and a "major tasteless fail," etc. Hoo boy.

  12. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited replied, September 4, 2015 at 11:08 a.m.

    Lippertism ! That is terrific. Lippertisms would be a great name for Barbara's book.

  13. Leslie Singer from SingerSalt, September 4, 2015 at 11:23 a.m.

    The entire campaign dispels assumptions on many levels and does it beautifully.  I couldn’t agree more; seeing older women selling something other than Depends and smiling in Cialis commercials is refreshing.  And by mixing it up with old gals talking about the car and hot guys looking at the car in the showroom or giving them a test drive, they have hit the right balance for the take away to be VW is the car for everyone. Media buyers know that women of a certain age are the healthiest spenders in many categories such as cars, tech, travel, and make most of the household purchasing decisions, but most advertisers assume that it will hurt their brand image to use un-sexy females.  In this case, even if they are a bit of a caricature, at least they dispel the myth that women of a certain age aren’t humorless or sexless. Bravo VW.

  14. Phillip Nones from Mullin/Ashley Associates, Inc., September 4, 2015 at 1:19 p.m.

    There's something about a "rear-end blowout" sale that conjures up a pretty disturbing mental image ...

  15. Ruth Thomas from Second helping, September 4, 2015 at 2:09 p.m.

    i love these women...i love these commercials.... most things usually start annoying me after the first few times i see them, these dont...without having met them, i know these women, they are not a parody, they are the Italian grandmothers in Bayville that asked me to reach the high shelves at the FoodBasket...... i want to take a test ride with them and listen to their banter...

  16. Roberta Greene from Phoenix Communications, September 4, 2015 at 2:55 p.m.

    I like all the good things that everyone has been saying although it's beginning to wear on me a bit.  I keep MSNBC on in the background so that I can hear breaking news, and the commercial is played endlessly.  But it does strike a "real" tone, and thank goodness that older women can be cast successfully as strong opinionated women who still buy cars.

  17. Alan Wasserstrom from None, September 4, 2015 at 7:36 p.m.

    Nicely put, Ms. Lippert, with a conclusion with which I fully agree.

  18. Jim English from The Met Museum, September 4, 2015 at 10 p.m.

    I think we are a little sick of "cool,"  Barbara. The wisdom of the ages cast upon us by The Golden Sisters is too frank to ignore.  And the girls are funny funny.

  19. Jonathan McEwan from MediaPost, September 9, 2015 at 6:26 p.m.

    Great write up as always. It's definitely a love/hate thing. I come down on the love side. I see a lot of ads. Both campaigns — the inappropriate grandma in the back seat and the Golden Sisters' test drive — appealed to me right away, and moreover stood out against the more obvious solutions you see every day (appealing to young people by talking only about them). Also, because the performances come off as completely sincere. To those repulsed by older people with normal appetites: Grow up. You will find yourself in their shoes soon enough.

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