Jetta campaign a brand-new love story

Phil and Loulou are dead. Long live...well, what are their names, anyway?...

Phil and Loulou are dead. Long live…well, what are their names, anyway?

For the better part of five years, Volkswagen Jetta television ads in Quebec revolved around the screwball antics of a tempestuous young married couple. Played by popular actors Marcel Leboeuf and Charlotte Laurier, Phil and Loulou squabbled constantly over which of them got to drive their prized Jetta.

The immense popularity of this campaign has played no small part in Volkswagen’s ongoing success in the province. VW currently accounts for approximately 7% of all vehicle sales in Quebec, which compares favourably to the market share of larger North American manufacturers, such as Ford Motor Company of Canada and DaimlerChrysler. What’s more, Volkswagen ranks first among automakers in awareness, even though its share of voice is a modest 4%.

Why, then, were Phil and Loulou made to hand in their keys last year?

It wasn’t easy to walk away from such a winning campaign, says Ann Bouthillier, account director with Volkswagen’s Quebec agency, Montreal-based Palm Publicité Marketing. But the time had clearly come. VW was introducing a dramatically remodeled edition of the Jetta – a mid-priced compact – into the marketplace for 1999, and it seemed only fitting to mark the change by introducing a dramatically remodeled advertising campaign.

So it was that a new series of Jetta spots, featuring a new – and as yet, unnamed – couple, made their debut on Quebec television last fall. A second series launched in March.

Within Volkswagen’s overall North American strategy, the Quebec market represents something of an anomaly. While English-speaking audiences, both in the U.S. and Canada, see the creative developed by Boston-based Arnold Advertising, Quebecers frequently view work done for their eyes only.

There’s good reason for the automaker to pay particular attention to Quebec: It’s one of the leading North American markets for Volkswagen sales. Maybe it’s their European roots, but Quebec consumers have always had a special attachment to VW. It’s the most popular European automotive brand in the province, appealing to a broader spectrum of car buyers than it does elsewhere. And Volkswagen has, wisely, responded with advertising designed specifically to reinforce its emotional links with the French-Canadian audience.

Hence Phil and Loulou, an affectionate but realistically temperamental couple with whom Quebecers found it easy to identify. Their endless jockeying for the privilege of taking the wheel proved a simple but effective way to communicate the essence of Jetta’s positioning: Simply put, it’s a fun car to drive.

The new Jetta, however, has much more of a story to tell. It’s a more powerful car, with greatly improved performance and handling, says Paulette Arsenault, Palm’s executive vice-president, creative director. Accordingly, the client wanted advertising in which the vehicle was "the true hero."

At the same time, there was consensus that the new campaign should feature another male-female duo. (Jetta’s core target in Quebec is thirtyish couples.) The challenge was figuring out how to lend a new twist to this approach.

After some head-scratching, Arsenault says, the agency settled on the idea of showing a couple meeting for the very first time – and recognizing one another as soul mates through their mutual admiration of the new Jetta.

The inaugural spot in the series depicted the pair (played by Charles Lafortune and Julie Deslauriers) approaching each other down opposite sides of a country road – she jogging, he on a bicycle. As their paths converge, the Jetta suddenly passes between them. Both gaze longingly at the lustrous new vehicle, until it has moved on. And then their eyes meet.

"It’s love at first sight, for all three of them," says Arsenault. Palm deliberately left the conclusion of the spot open-ended, to pique the curiosity of viewers and create a degree of anticipation for the next chapter in the story.

The two new spots on the air now pick up where the first left off. As the couple stare at one another, they both lapse into private reveries – in which, naturally, the Jetta plays a starring role.

In the woman’s fantasy, set somewhere in the mythical past, she comes driving to the rescue of her dream lover, helping him to escape a band of sword-wielding horsemen. ("It’s very aspirational," Arsenault says. "She has a great car and she gets to dress as a princess.") The guy’s fantasy, meanwhile, is a James Bond-style action/adventure scenario: The object of his affection plunges from a clock tower, and he drives to the scene just in time to catch her.

In addition to advancing the story line begun last fall, the new commercials showcase the performance and handling of the Jetta in an entertaining way, Bouthillier says.

To whet viewer appetites, 15-second teaser versions of the spots aired initially in February. The full 30-second versions broke on March 13. This is the only television work for Jetta that will air in 2000. Between now and next year, the team at Palm will attempt to figure out where the relationship should go next.

"We’re waiting to get a bit of a sense of the public reaction," says Arsenault. "Of course, we want them to evolve as a couple. But do they ever start dating? That I’m not so sure about. We could make it an eternal flirt, and just drive people crazy."

The one rule that the agency follows consistently on Volkswagen, Arsenault says, is to do the unexpected – a philosophy entirely in keeping with the VW brand attitude.

"We use a lot of intuition," she says. "Our strategies are always based on as much data as we can bring in, but Volkswagen are very good about letting us trust our instincts too."

Also in this report:

- Shorter formats a double-edged sword: By opting for spots of 15 seconds or less, advertisers can stretch their advertising dollar — but they may also be contributing to the problem of clutter p.TV1

- CCM arouses interest with sperm spot p.TV4

- Painting the smaller canvas: How creatives make their mark in 15 seconds or less p.TV4

- Red Rose resurrects brand with funeral spot: Retires ‘Only in Canada…’ tagline in favour of ‘A cup’ll do you good’ p.TV6

- Ford Focus puts the squeeze on credits: Sponsored previews of top-rated shows in bid to give campaign added impact p.TV8

- Is TV worth the money? p.TV12

- BTV blurs line between editorial, advertorial: Companies featured on business show pay about $10,000 for repackaged material p.TV13

From Karen Howe’s dining table: Creativity, COVID and Cannes

ICYMI, The Township's founder gathers the best of the best campaigns and trends so far.

Cannes Base Camp

By Karen Howe

I’m attending Cannes from the glory of my dining room table. There’s not a palm tree in sight, yet inspiration and intel are present in abundance.

Cannes Lions is a global cultural pulse check. The social course correction in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and BLM has delivered far greater diversity in the judging panels as well as the work. And we are all better for it.

I’m proud to say that creativity defeated COVID, which speaks to its power. Great work and big ideas flourished, despite unimaginable odds.

The work from the past two years spans a vast emotional range. From the profundity of Dove’s “Courage is Beautiful” to the hyper exuberance of Burberry’s “Festive,” they are opposite ends of the spectrum, but each answered a need in us.

Take note, the ascendency of gaming cannot be understated. Smart brands have embraced the channel. It makes sense, because gamers participate to meet others around the world, not just to play. And they represent a huge and powerful community. That’s why QSR Wendy’s gamified their iconic gal in RPG’s Feast of Legends.

Burger King sponsored the unknown Stevenage Football Club, transforming the team into online heroes and vaulting BK into the fray at the same time. Once again, the brand embedded itself in culture.

The birth of gaming tourism arrived when Xbox snuggled up to travel guides and created a brilliant baby: a travel guide for gaming worlds. It, too, embedded itself in culture.

From the standpoint of social good, Reporter Without Borders showed how it worked with Mindcraft for its “Uncensored Library” to bypass press censorship, with Minecraft providing a loophole to a space where young people could be educated. It provided youth with a powerful tool to fight oppression: truth.

COVID changed us in unexpected ways. We learned how to pay attention again and there was a notable lack of 30-second commercials. Instead, longer format content thrived. Apple’s WFH was seven minutes long. Entertainment reigned king, so we find ourselves returning to our advertising roots.

Seeing competitive brands form partnerships was one of this year’s other great surprises. The brilliantly simple “Beer Cap Project” by Aguila to reduce binge-drinking saw the brand reach out to competitive beers to join in. Aguila put incentivizing (keyword: free) reminders to drink water, eat food and get home safely on its bottle caps from all sorts of fast food chains, ride-share co’s and H2O brands.

On a personal level, I’m so proud of Canada again this year. Given that it was two years of work from all over the world being judged, even making the Cannes shortlist was an accomplishment. Canada is herding in the Lions in tremendous numbers – and it’s not even over. Fingers are crossed.

KAREN-HOWE-PIC-higher-rez-300x263Karen Howe is a Canadian Cannes Advisory Board Member and founder of The Township Group