With a three-city launch today at the press preview for the New York Auto Show, at the Shanghai Auto Show and at Volkswagen's global HQ in Berlin, VW revealed its highly anticipated new Beetle.
Today's unveiling, marking only the second redesign of the vehicle in its 73-year history (who could forget the 1989, more feminine bud vase version?) The 2012 Beetle is sportier, fuel-efficient and more "masculine" in design, although VW's US vice president of marketing, Tim Ellis, prefers to position it as "gender-neutral."
"We’re not about to abandon a very strong base, our female segment," he told brandchannel at today's New York press event. "The idea here is to broaden the appeal of the car, not to switch focus ... with the Super Bowl, let’s face it, football is more masculine, but on the other hand, a lot of women watch the Super Bowl — it’s very disproportionate for sporting events, it has a large female viewership. So we want to still leverage the joyfulness, the energy and the vitality behind the car, but with a more masculine expression."
That's right: no more bud vase, and take a look at those wheels. The updated commercial (above) breaking tonight on MTV, which is broadcasting and streaming a kick-off concert featuring the Black Eyed Peas in New York and parties in Berlin and Shanghai, mirrors the Super Bowl "Black Beetle" spot with a reveal, instead of a tease, at the end.
"It’s a very assertive vehicle, it’s racing through the forest to rock and roll music and flying through the air," comments Ellis on the thinking behind the spot. "All of the maneuvers that the car does through the forest mirror some classic driving scenes in film. I can’t say the actual films for copyright reasons, but if you look carefully you’ll see some of the most famous car scenes and chase scenes in film — even the film angles, the position of the camera on the 'beatle' itself as it moves through the forest."
Today's unveiling, ahead of the model's rollout to consumers in North America in September/October, Europe in October/November and Asia in February, marks the culmination of years of planning, Ellis adds.
"We’ve been working on this for a number of years, so it’s a massive opportunity for us. This car, within our portfolio, disproportionately drives brand impression, so it’s essential that we get it right. We’re not only looking to boost volumes for the car itself, but we are looking to boost volume for all of the cars across our portfolio. So we will overinvest, if you will, with this car in order to drive enthusiasm and interest in the brand, not just in the vehicle itself. The last time we relaunched this car, in ’98, we had a huge boost in sales, not only in the Beetle, but in all of the cars in our lineup, so we fully anticipate that will be the case again, so it’s important that we choose the right platforms, we choose the right moments in culture to get it right."
As for not alienating the 61% of current Beetle owners who are women, Ellis adds: "When we redesigned the Beetle in ’98, later on that (the bud vase) became a big part of the story. It clearly underlines what’s special about this car — it’s just a joyful, happy car. There’s such a connection between the people who drive it and the car itself. The easiest way to screw up the launch of this car is to try too hard. It’s so expressive, so emotional, it has such a strong place in our history, in this country. Really, all you need to do is put it out there in a confident way and it works on its own."
The teaser campaign for the 2012 redesigned Beetle reflects this delicate dance. First, there was the silhouette of the vehicle on Oprah's year-end "Favorite Things" giveaway last November:
Then there was the "Black Beetle" Super Bowl spot, the first commercial for the 21st century Beetle, made memorable for its Jon Spencer Blues Explosion soundtrack and the joyously raucous CGI beetle — leading to yet another silhouette and more than 4 million YouTube views to date:
Of course, that wasn't the only Volkswagen commercial during the Super Bowl — there was also the scene-stealing "The Force" spot for the Passat, which boasts more than 36 million views on YouTube:
So did "The Force" steal the new Beetle's Super Bowl thunder? Not at all, says Ellis.
"The Force spot did overshadow the perception of the success of the Beetle (Super Bowl) commercial, but it didn’t overshadow the success of the Beetle commercial," he comments. "If anything, it actually helped it. What was interesting to me was when you looked at all the major polling as well as in various third-party tests, 'Black Beetle' was the most appealing ad in the Super Bowl — after 'The Force.' Had we not launched 'The Force,' the automotive talk of the Super Bowl would have been the Beetle. In terms of the interest on the model page for the new Beetle, in terms of the amount of hand-raisers that we got after the Super Bowl, it wasn’t just a home run — it was a grand slam. And all we did was draw a silhouette. The car hadn’t even been introduced yet. So the Super Bowl was very successful in terms of driving enthusiasm for the car itself."
As for where Volkswagen will take the campaign to drive interest ahead of its availability to consumers, Ellis says "We’ll continue to evolve that piece of creative to show more classic driving footage, driving enjoyment, fun to drive footage. And then we’ll be creating a full, integrated 360-degree campaign. MTV is the exclusive channel tonight to break the new commercial, but there’ll be another Oprah, there’ll be a part two, within the show itself. And then we’ll be looking for very high-profile moments of culture, using high-profile media assets to continue the launch. The media on this launch is as important as the creative itself. We’ll be using every medium, but it won’t be a continuity strategy, it’ll be a high-impact strategy, so we’ll be choosing the right moments to come back with the car."
Below, check out the evolution of the Beetle over the years and more views of the "21st Century Beetle" reveal by Volkwagen today, starting with the 1998 redesign: