Not The Target Market

Boys and Puddles: A Natural Affinity

Before ordinary football commercials are left in the dust by the super-expensive, super-hyped Super Bowl ones, I want to comment on one commercial I absolutely despise. Watching a lot of football (as we do in this house), week after week I have seen some really irritating ads. For most of the season the Verizon ones were top-of-the-pile irritating. Until this Volkswagon one came around.

In the VW commercial, three boys maybe seven or eight years old are riding their bikes. They stop in front of a puddle stretching across the road and one of them says, obviously worried, something about it being very deep. Then the boy’s little sister speeds by the group on her bike, riding right through the puddle. And the tagline voiceover comes on: That feeling. Only better.

Let’s start with the set-up: Never, ever have I encountered a boy who would have been stopped by a puddle, even for a second, even if it came up to his neck. And especially not a seven or eight year old. My son, when he was three, declared that “mud was his favorite department.” The Moose, three-quarters of the way to two, heads directly into any puddle he can find as soon as he realizes he’s free. Dirt and depth aren’t part of the calculations.

Not only is this commercial is beyond stupid, it celebrates humiliation. Full stop.

I am so sick of the “you go girl” stuff when it belittles the boys. It’s not a zero sum game. All boys don’t have to be stomped on to raise all girls to the top of the mountain. And to stomp on boys with something so unlikely as fear of a puddle is merely gratuitous.

“That feeling, only better.” As it’s portrayed here, I connect “feeling” with “humiliation” and “sadness.” Not the wild success or free spirit days the ad was aiming for.

If the agency was simply in love with the idea of kids and bikes, there are other ways the ad could have been played: big sisters stop and little sister rides through. Ditto big and little brothers. Big sister stops to pick up little sister and zoom her through on the back of the bigger bike. It didn’t have to be a battle of the sexes.

I used to have a fondness for the VW brand because my mother drove a VW Beetle during most of my childhood. But now, not so much. VW proved they had a loose conception of reality with their diesel emissions fiasco. This bit of marketing doesn’t give me any confidence that they’ve dialed it back in.

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