World’s best ads ever #24: Volkswagen revolutionizes Super Bowl spots with ‘The Force’
We asked our readers to vote for their favorite commercials of all time. Top creatives from the World Creative Rankings and The Drum’s Judges’ Club then ranked the ads. Now, we bring you the definitive 100 best TV and video ads of all time.
Not many ads can claim to have changed the rules for advertising’s most hallowed space – the Super Bowl.
But Volkswagen’s ‘The Force’ did: like Darth Vader reshaping the galaxy in his image, the campaign’s mini-Vader ushered in a new era, making the Super Bowl ad itself just one small moment in a larger (and hopefully more viral) campaign.
As the story goes, Volkswagen hadn’t done a Super Bowl ad for a decade, but in 2011 it bought two 30-second spots. Its agency Deutsch prepared the spots – ‘The Force’ for the 2012 Passat and ‘Black Beetle’ for the new Beetle, but found that the former was both more impactful and more in need of a longer runtime. The conventional wisdom dictated that you held back your Super Bowl ad for maximum impact, but the team decided to take the risk: launch ‘The Force’ early, four days before game day, and see what would happen.
What happened has gone down in the annals of ad history: 1.8m views by the following morning; 17m in total before kick-off; becoming the most-shared Super Bowl ad of all time. “It paid for itself before it ever ran,” Mike Sheldon, chief executive of Deutsch North America, told Time in 2015.
The industry hasn’t looked back, turning the Super Bowl spot from a single all-eggs-in-one-basket moment to the focal point of months of activity – including, these days, trailers for the ads, teasers for the trailers, and whatever else ad people can make stick.
Though simple in concept – a small boy dressed as Darth Vader tries to use the Force and eventually thinks he does when his father presses a button on his Passat’s remote control – the spot’s success leans on an array of pillars.
There’s whimsical direction from Lance Acord, long-time cinematographer for Sofia Coppola and Spike Jonze (the latter’s Where the Wild Things Are would have been good training). There’s John Williams’ iconic score, the Imperial March. And then there’s six-year-old Max Page, who somehow imbues his mini-Vader with enough yearning to be unforgettably adorable, despite never removing that mask. And despite never having seen Star Wars.
Alongside the ad’s legacy, Page is creating his own: alive and well today, he lives with a congenital heart defect. Having had multiple surgeries, he raises funds for Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.