‘Fame, feeling and fluency’: How DDB created an ad ‘too powerful for TV’

How do you demonstrate the power behind a car in an ad without it being pulled off air? DDB's chief creative officer Ben Welsh explains how the agency managed to portray an ad 'too powerful for TV' and how he addressed the declining quality of car advertising.

Portraying the power behind one of Australia’s most powerful utes wasn’t easy for Volkswagen and its long-standing creative agency of record DDB Sydney, but by applying the theory of “fame, feeling and fluency”, the duo managed to create an ad “too powerful for TV”.

The ad, which sells the Amarok V6 while addressing the struggles Australian car manufacturers face when trying to portray the power behind vehicles without the ad getting banned, was born from using the formula of “fame, feeling and fluency” with a touch of parody.

Ben Welsh, chief creative officer at DDB, tells Mumbrella the ad endeavoured to be fresh, but it needed to build on the past work that had been created for the Amarok.

“DDB believes growth comes from fame, feeling and fluency,” he says.

“Fame is quite straightforward: you do something that everyone is talking about. Feeling, there is a lot of feeling in that spot because it is the feeling of excitement, and then fluency is building on the past, it is simplistic to say it is building on the past, but part of that is building on the past.

“We don’t want to just do the same thing, we want to be fresh because you don’t get fame if it is just about fluency, those are the core beliefs of DDB and you can see how they come into play.”

Welsh says the brief Volkswagen gave the agency was to demonstrate the ability of the Amarok V6 in a way which would stand out from everything else.

Despite Welsh acknowledging that it sounded “simple in hindsight”, the chief creative officer says it was a “challenge”, because the ad “obviously doesn’t write itself”.

“There were other ideas and there were some great ideas that we didn’t do, but they all had one thing in common, they demonstrated this amazing vehicle but in a completely different way to everyone else,” he adds.

However, Welsh says the difficulties the agency faced actually turned into the insight for the ad.

“The interesting thing here is, because it is the most powerful and capable ute on the market, you then start going ‘oh well we can’t actually demonstrate that because we will get into trouble, it is really quite a high performance vehicle so if we show that we won’t be allowed to do it’.

“That is almost the insight that led to the idea, knowing that if we really wanted to demonstrate what this thing could do, we would get into trouble.”

But this wasn’t the only challenge DDB and Volkswagen had to overcome when creating the ad. Breaking the mould of car advertising also came with its difficulties.

“There is something we are calling ‘ute-vertising’ where you look at it all and you almost see the same shots and the same stuff from different manufacturers and they are all demonstrating off road ability, toeing ability, power, whatever it is, it is almost like there is a menu of things that you have to get across when you are selling a ute, but you don’t want to be the same as everyone else,” he says.

Welsh, who was previously the creative chairman of M&C Saatchi Asia, says the agency also aimed to address the declining quality of car advertising. According to Welsh, car advertising “isn’t what it used to be”.

“Car designs have become more homogeneous so given that, car brands should be becoming more distinctive and personality should be more important than ever before, but it feels like it has done the opposite,” he says.

“It is a privilege working on Volkswagen because it is one brand that really does understand and believe in the importance of personality or defining the brand. Too many car ads end up being brochures where they are listing features or just glamour shots, which is kind of what a brochure is too.

“As a category it has become: show the car and talk about what it has got. But I don’t think that builds desire, if a brand is a reflection of your personality, a car brand is the most expensive version of that,” the chief creative continues.

“Maybe car advertising isn’t as good as it used to be because people don’t love cars as much, or maybe people don’t love cars as much because the advertising isn’t as good as it used to be.”

Welsh says: “Car advertising isn’t what it used to be”

Circling back to the ad, which was first released at the start of the month, Welsh says it will still make sense to those who aren’t familiar with Ad Standards and the advertising codes of conduct.

Welsh claims he doesn’t “like ads that are aimed at the industry” and the campaign “has to work for the market”.

“Everyone understands the idea of parody too, there are a lot of great movies that are built on parody and a lot of great ads that are built on parody,” he says.

“At the end of the day it is doing all the things it has to do, if I am a potential buyer it stands out to me because it is quiet different to anything else in the market and it clearly demonstrates the potential of the vehicle, but there are times when we don’t show them a model car and other times when we are showing them a drawing of the car, but the message is this car is incredibly capable and I know the dealers love it, there is a lot of love for it amongst people in the business so that is always a test.”

For Welsh, the ad does more than just show the power of a vehicle in a new way, it also builds the Volkswagen brand. Volkswagen, Welsh says, has seen success in its advertising because it often goes “against the market” and manages to avoid presenting an “arrogance” in its advertising.

The creative says the car manufacturer has managed to portray a “distinctive, intelligent and certainly witty” voice in the market.

With “arrogance” being absent from its advertising, Welsh compares the brand to one of its competitors, Audi.

“Interestingly Audi is into wit and intelligence but there is a slight superiority to Audi but Volkswagen is for every man and it is the premium for the people,” he says.

“The personality for Volkswagen has to be very approachable, but I always find it is at its best when it is a little bit humble, so here we are demonstrating the incredible power of the ute but not showing it, and that has an inherit humility to it that makes the brand endearing.”


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