Routan Bust

6 11 2008

Last week, I noted some of the unsettling racial/sexual overtones of the new Axe Dark Temptation campaign. But it’s not surprising I don’t like the ad; I’m nowhere near Axe’s 18-24 year old male target demographic.

Which is what makes CP+B’s recent Volkswagen “Routan Boom” campaign so bizarre. As an educated, solidly middle-class, 26-year-old female who would like to have children in the not terribly distant future and who is, as a matter of fact, actually in the market for a new car, I’m sitting square in the middle of VW’s ideal consumer real estate.

And yet the ads, which should be tailored to appeal to me, instead achieve the unfortunate trifecta of offending, confusing, and utterly creeping me out.

The 30-second spot “Meet Christine” opens with spokesgal Brooke Shields sounding the alarm about a growing “epidemic”:


“There’s an epidemic sweeping our nation. Women everywhere are having babies just to get the new Volkswagen Routan. Take this couple. Christine here is so seduced by German engineering, she’s having a baby just to get it.”



Probably the weirdest note these faux-public service spots, presumably aimed at the educated young women who make up a full 61 percent of the minivan-buying market, hit is the mocking tone they apply to one of the most monumental decisions in a woman’s (or man’s) life: When, or if, she wants to become a parent.

As traditional gender roles begin to thaw, more and more women are agonizing over the choices that come with potential motherhood—Can I keep my career and have a baby? What am I going to do about child care? Can my spouse or I afford to stay home? What if I’m still single, but my biological clock is ticking?

The Routan spots minimize these life-altering moments with a gusto not seen since Coors’ ’07 spot “Pregnancy,” in which the woman’s positive pregnancy test is equated with the changing color of the temperature indicator on the man’s beer.

Interestingly, as I was transcribing the line from the “Christine” spot above, I typed “Couples everywhere are having babies…” before listening again and realizing that it’s not couples, but women. That’s another unsettling aspect: Even though all of the women in the ads are coupled up (Dan Quayle would be proud), it’s always the woman who has initiated the pregnancy, apparently covertly, painting the men as dupes and the women as manipulators.

Also bizarre is the choice of Shields as the face of the “Routan Boom” campaign. In recent years she has spoken publicly about her struggle first with infertility, and then with post-partum depression. Now here she is making a joke about women who approach having babies with the same gravity as changing their hair. What?

Sales figures for the Routan aren’t yet available, but it will be interesting to see if they hit their mark. In portraying women as wonton, overgrown children impulsively having babies to get a new toy, the campaign dismisses the legitimate and pressing concerns of exactly the consumers it’s trying to reach. They’re not just doing a disservice to women, they’re doing a disservice to themselves.




19 responses

6 11 2008
Deborah Johnson

I find this ad campaign disturbing, too. You raise some excellent points.

I live in St. Louis. Where did you live in Missouri?

I also have a dog named Henry. German shepherd/golden retriever mix.

6 11 2008

Hi Deborah!

I went to school in Columbia, which I loved, but I’m really more of a big-city gal. Went to the Central West End in STL pretty frequently… there’s a Welsh restaurant there I used to love.

Your Henry sounds adorable. Mine is a Westie, but he thinks he’s a tiger.

6 11 2008

Okay. First off, I also have a dog named Henry… he’s a bloodhound and he’s crazy but I love him to death. Second, I felt the exact same way when I saw those VW ads. I was surprised at how offended I was and at first, thought I may have misunderstood the ad. But the more I see it, the more it bothers me. I would have loved to be in the meeting where that campaign was pitched. What were they thinking? If this was the winning concept, what were the other ideas that they turned down? Why are large companies so clueless when it comes to marketing to women? If they were trying to stir the pot and get people talking about it, mission accomplished. But I’m certainly not going to buy one of those.

6 11 2008

very interesting blog, I’m a new reader/follower(twitter)

6 11 2008

Thanks for stopping by my students’ blog…and for your comment. This ad is really intriguing the students (and me)…certainly it is a unique way of discussing attributes which, frankly, all the offerings in the category have. I think this continues that sort of snarky/in crowd/sortabizzare work that VW has been doing for a while now.

6 11 2008
Creepy Brooke Shields VW ads - SheKnows Message Boards

[…] it?), but I did kind of take offense, which is unusual for me. You can watch one of the ads here:Routan Bust U R B Z E N — Id be interested to hear your […]

6 11 2008
Herb Everett

When these commercials end, I usually wake up with my mouth agape. So bizarre. So bizarre. Whatever happened to the V-Dub ads?

7 11 2008

Lighten up. I found the commercial somewhat amusing, but mostly stupid. Either way, they do not undermine anything. It’s just meant to be funny, and while they fail at comedy genius, they succeed at keeping your attention.

7 11 2008

There are many commercials on TV that I find disturbing as well, but I understand that it’s just some advertising company’s lame attempt at being funny. We live in such a sensitive world that there’s always going to be opposition no matter what message is being conveyed. In this case, it’s a commercial.

I personally find Brooke Shields so attractive that I can’t even remember what she’s saying as I’m paying attention to other things such as the car’s design, shape and specs….right!

If the commercial prevents you from buying a VW then surely there are a thousand of other products you need to avoid because I’ve seen much more offensive advertising on TV these days.

8 11 2008

I find it interesting that two people’s responses were “Aw, c’mon lighten up.” – one of the two obviously male, the other ambiguous. It tends to be that attitude of “Pfft, can’t you take a joke?” and “Brooke Shields is so hot that I wasn’t even listening,” that perpetuates this sort of mindless advertising. I’ve always found the Axe ads to be mildly disturbing (women are so mindless that we’ll chase anything that smells good? What?), but I wasn’t really offended by the latest VW commercials, just puzzled. You raise some interesting points, especially about Brooke’s previous experiences, and how incongruous they are to this campaign.

I’m thoroughly enjoying your blog so far!

9 11 2008

yes, the more I see these ads the more they irritate the hell out of me. At first, I thought, “are they serious?”… then I started seeing them about every 3 commercials… So those advert. guys are obviously idiots, but Brooke Shields is a woman, too. What the HELL was SHE thinking?!?

I’ve generally kind of hate most ads though… tampons, prescription drugs (what does a child running through a field have to do with depression or heart disease?!?)
There are a lot of really ridiculous ads.

10 11 2008

I am a male, to clear up the ambiguousness… and my answer to you is to then become an advertising guru yourself and produce better commercials. I find that I have a pretty strong hate for most commercials these days, however the Axe and Tag commercials you mention are aimed at men. And rather than suggesting that the commercial is suggesting that women are unintelligent, I find that it is suggesting that men are stupid enough to believe that a body spray can entice beautiful women to mob you. I don’t care how good I smell, if I’m a regular nobody guy, no women are going to mob me. Now, if my name is Matthew McConaughey I could smell like horse dung and women would mob me regardless of the smell.

My real point is that people take everything too seriously. If we’d all just lighten up, there’d be a lot less conflict. It’s the whole “Politically Correct” mindset. It’s bullshit.

10 11 2008

Sure, the ads is grossly bizarre and magnificently hits all the wrongs notes for a usual “inspirational attainment” auto-marketing ad.

But what is really hilarious/disgusting are tin-eared folks like Malok, who’s overall contribution to the discussion is “Lighten up,” as if the only acceptable reactions to viewing ads is either enthusiastic interest, offense by the hypersensitive, or silent tolerance.

If Malok reads and not just watch ads, perhaps he understand that a host of emotions, values and beliefs can be consciously and subconsciously influenced through repeated exposure to advertising. Applying a degree of skepticism to the interpretation of ad messages and unearthing the assumptions that lie therein, isn’t “politicaly correct bullshit.” It’s called not being a fucking tool.

For example, some people do a lot of thinking about how they aren’t as fuckable as Matthew McConaughey – and how if they were a woman they would want to “mob” Matthew McConaughey like he smelt “like horse dung.” That person isn’t “taking things too serious;” further reading could show that such advertising may be at
the root of their many body issues and gay-love of Matt McConaughey .

16 11 2008

I am a female, 31 years old, married no children. I have to say that I think the ads are hilarious. I don’t think they undermine anything (unless we let them). Nobody is actually going to have a baby so they can buy this car. Nobody. Because that really isn’t the point. The point is that VW has made a minivan so fabulous that you need to get your hands on it and I think the tongue in cheek commercial delivers. I actually bought a Volkswagen last week and was thrilled to see Routan marketing materials onsite that reflect the commercials. I asked the salespeople what customers were saying about the ads, knowing there had been some kerfuffle over them. He said overwhelmingly, people thought the ads were funny and responded positively to the car. They are selling really well, which he attributed to the commercial’s attention.

I do think you bring up interesting points, but am not sure we should be taking marketing this seriously (and I’m a marketer!) Thanks for posting. I’m looking forward to hearing what everyone has to say about it.

P.S. I think this ad is so effective that when I’m ready to pull the trigger and have kids, I will happily trade in my Eos for a Routan. What better than a car that can remind me of such a good giggle?

17 11 2008

Jessica –

“So those advert. guys are obviously idiots, but Brooke Shields is a woman…”
You make the assumption that the entire advertising group for VW is male, which I find highly doubtful.

problemwithcaring –

That was a pretty well thought-out response, but you lose credibility when it becomes clear that you yourself fall within one of those groups you outlined. Perhaps if you found a witty way to insult that mindset as well instead of spending the whole post knocking the “Lighten up” group then you’d come off as more objective.

Stephanie –

” …it’s always the woman who has initiated the pregnancy, apparently covertly, painting the men as dupes and the women as manipulators.”
I think you may be reading into this a bit much. I’m fairly certain the usage of the term “Women” as opposed to “Couples” is due to the fact that men cannot (currently) birth children, and not as some devious plot to make women seem like manipulators. When it comes down to it, legally it *is* the woman who has all the control when it comes to having a child. It isn’t the man who gets to decide whether a child is kept or aborted; it is the woman, because it is their body that is being affected.

17 11 2008

This is what comes of treating comic ads that use hyperbole to make a point as though they’re sociological essays telling us how to live. I found the ads silly rather than uproariously hilarious, but I certainly wasn’t offended either. I know it drives earnest activists and solemn bloggers crazy when they’re advised to get a sense of humour, but this trait does make it easier to recognize comic exaggeration and irony when you see them.

28 05 2009

Okay. I found these commecials odd, but I also noticed that the pregnant ladies in the ads acted offended too.. So, I took the commercial as the spoke person is dillusional in thinking that these people need an excuse to by this vechile.

I guess the message that I took away from that advertisement is that you do not need any excuse to purchase the vechile.

Not. You need to get pregnant to justify the purchase..

I also gathered that (I was meant to believe )it would be a good family car…

11 09 2009
Someone who's more than a sex and an age.

Oh woman.
>Omg, patriarchy calling us babymakers! And CLEARLY implying babymaking isn’t huge decision for WOMEN concerned about careers, bio. clock, yada yada. (you TOO really said women, not couples???)
>Lighten up. It’s a tongue in cheek ad, not a political manifesto.
>How dare you minimize my complaints!!!!! You MAN.
>…. *shocked silence that someone offended by Routan ad could be offended by being directly contradicted*
>Comment readers fall asleep, write this comment when they wake up.

My reaction as admittedly younger female who is also looking for new car (Toyota, not VW because I’m not going to spend $3000 each year on maintenance): being refreshed to see something other than glamor shot of car driving through mountains. I REMEMBERED it. Bizarre, yes, creative, yes, novel, yes, offensive, depends if you can comprehend subtle humor that takes an additional mental step past “people having babies…wait, no, WOMEN having BABIES!? this is JOKE about having BABIES??? omg. BABIES=most important decision EVER for woman, how dare they!”

Anyway obviously men are boorish by nature so, and since all ad execs are obviously men, can you blame them for making an insensitive ad? It wouldn’t matter if women would stop being so hypersensitive. You’re right though, this was poorly targeted if it was intended for easily offended women about to purchase cars.

-A woman, as if that’s the main thing that defines me and my perceptions.

…and who suddenly notes that satire and pointing out of hypocrisy in a hyperbolic manner will be lost on this crowd. Either because they don’t get it, don’t want to get it, or they will be so blinded by their umbrage at a random internet commenter that they won’t be able to read past fifth line.

11 09 2009
Someone who's more than a sex and an age.

It also occurs to me doctors and policemen make jokes about death and crime. (You would be shocked and probably never recover from the offensiveness if you knew what truly went on in the lunchroom.) Clearly because they think those things are not important.

Since when does “important” or “life-altering”…especially when it’s not a somber topic like death and crime…excuse a topic from satire? No, you’re right: all jokes should be made about boring things like what I had for breakfast. Then again, breakfast IS the most important meal of the day…so best not broach that one.

I’m surprised, more than anything, that someone is offended by such a vanilla topic? They’re not trying to mock mothers, mothers’ decisions, babies, or anything of the sort. Here’s what I do remember being mocked: Brooke Shields, celebrities, newshour “documentaries” / sensationalist stories that miss the point, statements made with self-negating disclaimers, minivans, stereotyping (minivan customers), male pride (vasectomy joke), the Routan, VW, the importance of the Routan in the grand scheme of things, causation versus correlation…I’m sure there’s more.

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