Super Bowl ad winner: Darth Vader and Volkswagen


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Super Bowl ads will be the highlight of choice for millions of viewers Sunday. You’ll see a lot of high production and fevered story-making crammed into 30 or 60 seconds. Some of it’s pretty good, but the one that will really grab you is one of the simplest--a little boy in a Darth Vader costume trying desperately to make the force his own.

Bucking the tradition of trying to wow ‘em only on game day, Volkswagen posted the Vader ad on YouTube at mid-week. By Saturday night it had already rung up more than 11 million views, and it seemed to be gaining momentum as kickoff approached.


Several other car makers will also show spots Sunday, but the ad for the 2012 Volkswagen Passat will get inside people’s heads and stay there because it combines the iconic “Star Wars” character and a classic sentiment—a child’s desire to be larger than life. Somehow a simple sedan parked in the family driveway makes his wish come true.

The spot is one of two Volkswagen of America will show during the game. The other features an animated beetle, the creature, to highlight the Beetle, the car. On YouTube, where viewers vote with their clicks, the Beetle ad also drew a crowd, about 1.1 million by Saturday, but not nearly the throngs viewing the Darth Vader ad. The ad agency Deutsch Inc. gets credit for the great spots.

In contrast to the VW ads, other car makers will be laboring profusely to make their point--like summer blockbusters taking on a charming little indie pic. They meet varying degrees of success.

El Segundo-based David & Goliath has come up with a clever take for the Kia, with everyone from a cop to a billionaire, to a sea god to, well, you’ll see, going to extreme length to try to snatch possession of the Kia Optima.

PMK BNC offers an elaborate story to try to burst the bubble of one luxury brand, Mercedes-Benz, in favor of another, Audi. The 60-second spot has a couple of wealthy swells trapped in a prison of convention. When they make their jail break (they take their stuffed Dodo with them) the greatest threat is their starchy old habits.

That sets up a fun little kicker to the spot, involving Kenny G. But good luck getting viewers to pick up all the subtle details (in prison, the rich clink crystal; no tin cups raking across the prison bars) while they’re pounding brew and dip at a Super Bowl party.


Kethcum, in contrast, tries to spread it’s message for Hyundai’s Sonata across three 30-second ads. The conceit is that we have been hypnotized into thinking compact cars can’t be special (part 1) wowed with some graphics that show the unexpected can happen (part 2) and then showing that old, anachronistic technology (a giant cellphone, a phonograph worn around the neck like an iPod) doesn’t have to be accepted.

All of the efforts are worthy. But the one you’ll actually want to see again is Volkswagen’s, powered by the force of a tiny Darth Vader who tells a simple story, with a little body language and nary a word.

--James Rainey

Twitter: latimesrainey