Considering that it seems as though every other commercial on television follows the doofus male wise female plot, the new VW Passat commercial released just in time for the run up to the Super Bowl is hardly the most egregiously misandrist (yes, Virginia, despite what your spellchecker says, it is a word). With a tagline of “Pass down something he will be grateful for”, the ad shows a father in a shirt and tie teaching his son how to throw a baseball, in front of a Passat sitting in their driveway. Completely clueless about the mechanics of throwing overhand, but convinced of his knowledge of the subject, dad has form that makes “throwing like a girl” a compliment by comparison. He looks like a cross between someone putting shot and a gooney bird trying to land. The son dutifully imitates dad’s form, but with a skeptical look on his face. Neither can get the ball anywhere near the target. I’m not sure the ad is on target either.
This isn’t VW’s first attempt at a little father-son humor. Their “Darth Vader” Super Bowl ad last year was found to be endearing by millions (though I thought it had a touch of cruelty in it), and a number of people see warm humor and not misandry in the current Passat ad. On the other hand, that’s not a universal assessment and the negative reaction to the commercial by some has me asking the question: just who is Volkswagen trying to sell Passats to with this ad in the first place? There also appears to be some pushback from men who don’t like patronizing companies that patronize or demean them. Rather than sell them Passats, the commercial might be harming the VW brand with men.
Dr. Helen Smith is a Tennessee based child psychologist who works with violent teens. Her husband Glenn Reynolds is a law professor in Knoxville. Dr. Helen, as she apparently prefers to be called, is that rara avis, a woman who not only likes men, but is willing in these oh so PC days, to swim against the stream of so-called gender feminism and actually decry male bashing.
A reader sent Dr. Smith a note about the commercial, prompting her post, Can dads do anything right?, asking her readers how they think the ad portrays men and boys. Of more relevance to TTAC and our audience here is the comment her original correspondent made, “I have no idea how this will sell cars, or to whom.”
To be sure, not all of the reactions, from men as well as women, have been negative. In a 100+ comment long reply thread to Smith’s posting of the ad, a number of people found the ad inoffensive, even humorous. A few people were happy that the ad showed a father and son actually engaged with each other (lo how the might have fallen). Still, many men, and even some women were offended at the portrayal of yet another incompetent father. Even more interesting to me as a car guy was the number of people who reacted by saying that they were so offended by the ad that they will no longer even consider buying a Passat or other VW product. It reminded me of how some folks like to use the term Government Motors in describing why they won’t buy that company’s products. Actually, at least a couple of the comments say they won’t buy GM products and now they’ll do the same with VWs.
Now I’m sure that some of you are saying, “so what if some troglodyte right wingers are offended? Times have changed. White males aren’t in charge anymore. Who cares what a bunch of bitter clingers say?”
Who cares? Ferdinand Piech maybe, though he might be too arrogant to notice. The United States is a key market in Piech’s
delusion of grandeur plans for VW’s multimillion unit expansion by the end of the decade, and while marketing consumer goods in America does tend to target women, who are indeed the deciders in the vast majority of consumer purchase decision in the U.S., the single most important part of the North American light vehicle market, pickup trucks, is almost exclusively marketed to men. VW isn’t the only company that knows that boys imitate their fathers. Unlike the boy in that Silverado ad, though, the boy in the VW ad doesn’t play with a toy truck. Volkswagen doesn’t sell pickup trucks in the US market.
Perhaps the VW brand is deliberately avoiding a big burly male marketing image, showing men being domestic, not quite so aggressively male, because their product line is directed at women and domesticated males. When was the last time you saw a Volkwagen commercial that touted one of their cars as a canyon carving autobahn brenner? Maybe, at least in North America, Audi is VAG’s brand for masculine alphas and VW is their car for women and beta providers with adolescent rockstar fantasies.
So what do you think? Does the ad offend you. Do you think it will cost VW sales?
Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks – RJS
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