If Volkswagen’s “The Force” commercial is the original Star Wars and last year’s “The Dog Strikes Back” spot is The Empire Strikes Back, then logically, a Return of the Jedi-style ad should have wrapped up the trilogy this year. Instead, the company elected to go in an entirely different direction with their 2013 Super Bowl offering… though the new spot does carry a whiff of The Phantom Menace.
The ad features a smiley white dude named Dave who tries to cheer up his dour coworkers by spouting “don’t worry, be happy”-esque platitudes in a thick Jamaican accent. Why’s Dave so happy? Because he drives a VW, of course — which gives him “a different take on life,” according to Volkswagen America marketing officer Tim Mahoney.
Shortly after playing a clip of the ad, CNN’s Soledad O’Brien asked Mahoney whether the company worried about how people would react to a non-Jamaican person speaking like Dave does — even noting that the commercial immediately made her think of the much-maligned Caribbean stereotype Jar Jar Binks. Mahoney was ready for the question: “We obviously did our homework to make sure that we weren’t offensive,” he said. “We did some research to make sure that we weren’t going into a direction we didn’t want to go.” When one of O’Brien’s guests — Jamaica-born Christopher John Farley of the Wall Street Journal — asked Mahoney to elaborate, the exec said that VW had consulted “about a hundred Jamaicans” and included a speech coach on the commercial’s set. He also noted that the commercial features Jamaican musician Jimmy Cliff’s cover of “C’Mon, Get Happy” — so Cliff, at least, didn’t find it offensive.
So, will this spot enhance or hurt the good will VW has built up with its past few Super Bowl commercials? Watch it below and judge for yourself. (And yes, you have to sit through a different ad before you get to the video with the new VW ad. The future is now!)