What the Volkswagen folks could have learned from Anheuser-Busch, the kings of the super bowl.

Volkswagen is getting a lot of stick for its “Jamaican” super bowl ad.

And rightly so, in my opinion.

It was a hamfisted and charmless attempt to suck on the lowest common denominator straw.

I have no problem with pandering to the lowest common denominator. It worked out pretty good for JRR Tolkien. And Spielberg too. Just make sure your execution is charming enough to offset the obvious potential problem with your idea: it’s very basic.

Where VW messed up was assuming there was a benign one-dimensional culture out there, called Jamaica, that doesn’t really give a fig about how it’s portrayed in American culture.

Well that exists only in your heads guys. And maybe Volkswagen made a calculation as to what this might cost them in the big picture. “Let’s say Jamaica hates us tomorrow, what does that cost us?”

But I doubt they did.

This is what I call “great boardroom comedy”.

It plays really well to an audience of high powered executives in a boardroom when it’s delivered by the agency presenter monkey. but less so in the real actual world. when the megawatt shine of public opinion comes into play. and the baser decisions come into sharp relief.

Suddenly it ain’t so funny any more.

I remember we did a spot for Budweiser set in a sushi restaurant.

It was based on my partner’s real life. He was big guy and he loved sushi. All the sushi chefs in LA loved Justin.

And it felt like a great idea. And then I started to worry about how Japanese people might feel about being portrayed in sucha uni-dimensional manner. Your culture = serving us sushi!

The client felt this too so they met with the Japanese-American society and showed them the spot. When i heard this my heart sank. I loved the spot and felt no good could possibly come of showing it to people who we knew were sensitive to the issue.

Surprise! They loved the spot. But the weird part was this. They loved it because they were just happy to finally have Japanese-Americans included in a Budweiser commercial. I thought that was rather pathetically cute and poignant. Poor widdle Japanese people!

This was the spot.

6 responses to “What the Volkswagen folks could have learned from Anheuser-Busch, the kings of the super bowl.

  1. Tolkien? Lowest common denominator? WTF?
    The wasabi spot was a cute follow up to Wazzup, but by then it was played.

    • What I meant Rob was that LOTR was a distillation and conflation of many existing myths and archetypes. So JRR literally did reduce things to the lowest common denominator. Most stories that are super successful reduce things to the lowest common denominator. That’s one reason they travel so well. Tolkien took the most basic story, the quest, and added a dash of good ole ‘good vs evil’. Doesn’t get more basic than that.

      The fact that something is reduced to the lowest common denominator doesn’t mean it’s necessarily bad. It’s the execution that makes the difference. Lowest common denominator gets a bad rap. I always try to reduce things to the lowest common denominator. And it’s tough.

      JAWS was a great example of a story that reduced things to the lowest common denominator: fear of being eaten alive. Luckily a certain S. Spielberg was at the helm of that one. You can readily imagine that one turning to shit real fast in the wrong hands.

      And you’re wrong about the Wasabi spot. That thing took on a life of its own. It was voted in the top ten commercials of all time by the History Channel viewers. They even sold bootleg Wasssaaabi! T-shirts on Venice beach. I’ll call that victory.

  2. O.K. I misinterpreted what you were saying.

    • Rob,

      I think the term “lowest common denominator” has become shorthand for “Adam Sandler movie”. To me at least, all it means is that your story is accessible to everyone. How can that be necessarily bad?

  3. who did the dubbing???

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