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hey there mr. blue sky, please tell us why, you had to hide away for so long

by mg at 11:13 AM on December 12, 2002

Has anyone seen the new Volkswagen commercial with the young shlub repeatedly heading off to work while pining away for the new Beetle convertible, all over a soundtrack of ELO’s Mr. Blue Sky. I’m sure you’ve seen it, the commercial is omnipresent, and even when you aren’t anywhere near a television the song is as persistent an earworm a damn Nelly song.

The first time I saw the commercial was during the previews on the opening night of 8 Mile. Now, 70s prog rock and Volkswagen seem an odd pitch to the demographic likely to be at the 11:30 opening night showing of a movie about a white-trash rapper, but VW did manage to hook at least one person with the ad, me.

I love the commercial. It is as good a piece of music video cinema as anything you are likely to see on MTV (not directed by Spike Jonze). And it got me thinking about advertising.

I read an article a couple months back saying that over the last 50 years advertising has moved from trying to sell a product toward trying to sell an idea, or lifestyle. That is definitely the case with the VW ad, which doesn’t even show the car. It’s true with a lot of other ads too, from the Taster’s Choice coffee soap opera, to every break during the Super Bowl.

These commercials are certainly more entertaining to watch, because that is what they are, entertainment. And as commercials have gotten more cinematic, entertainment has gotten more commercial. Companies spend big bucks to get their logos in movies and on TV. A local radio station even has a contest every Monday to spot the product placements in the previous night’s episode of The Sopranos.

There is this communication theory that suggests media exist solely as a means to get people to watch advertisements. Now, I’m no rebel. I don’t have a subscription to Ad Busters. You aren’t likely to see me throwing rocks and rioting at the next WTO get-together, but I do see some credence in this theory.

Television shows are created because they expect to appeal to certain demographics. This isn’t because any altruistic desire to provide entertainment to those people, but because those demos will attract the most advertisers.

The theory states that the entertainment creates an image of an ideal lifestyle and advertisers present products that, supposedly, will allow viewers to live that same lifestyle. As if using a certain brand of laundry detergent will get you on the cast of Friends.

It’s hard to argue against that theory, but I’ve really got to wonder how successful it is. As much as I love the commercial for the new VW Beetle, I’m not about to run out a buy one. Even if I were heading into a dealer tomorrow, I could happily hum Mr. Blue Sky while buying a Ford. It I’m spending 20 grand on a new car, no song, no matter how catchy, would sway my opinion.

Even switching now from six figure purchases to six packs, I love Budweiser’s Real American Hero radio ads, but you will never find me stopping at the 7-11 for a case of Bud.

So, I’m really wondering whether an ad has ever a) compelled you to take a certain action you never would have otherwise or at least, b) influenced you one way or another on a purchasing you were wavering about.

comments (33)

i may have been influensed to purchace some 3-d doritos after the ali landry superbowl commercial. oh wait...no, i just continued eating my regular chips while visualizing ali landry eating doritos.

by JC at December 12, 2002 11:37 AM

Sure, I've sometimes been swayed by advertising. Not for shit like cars though, but I bet those ads do influence the less car-opinionated (just like empty presidential debates sway the less-informed)...

Things I tried due to interest piqued by commercials:

Pepsi One (only once, due to severe stomach ache that it caused).
Mentos (candy & commercials: so bad it's good).
Nick Drake (advertised in another great VW commercial)
Listerine Mint Strips (oooh, how I love thee, odd plastic dissolving minty alien material)

by Linz at December 12, 2002 12:04 PM

I have woken up every morning this week with- people all over the world, join hands, start a love train, in my head. And yet I will still stop what I am doing to watch beautiful people dancing around in striped Gap cardigans. On the other side of the Gap/Banana Republic/Old Navy conglomerate, my 5 year old step daughter said this past July, "Are we going to see fireworks on fourth of July Old Navy?" Yuck.

by Shannon at December 12, 2002 12:06 PM

hee-hee. we (Linz and I) posted at the same time. or is it another one of those weird connections that we're having?

by Shannon at December 12, 2002 12:08 PM


Oh, by the way, Mom didn't have The Dream that we had. So we are safe. I hope.

by Linz at December 12, 2002 12:20 PM

I want a Volkswagen Beetle so bad. . .

I also like the True Men Of Genius radio commercials (specially the ones about wrestling costumes and the latte guy)

Someone should yell at me for being here rather than studying for my math final, which is tomorrow. Feh. I had my history final today, and I sinceraly have no clue what my grade will be.

Speaking of yelling: MG, you have not replied to any of the emails I've sent you. I am officially hurt.

by Lucy at December 12, 2002 2:10 PM

MG's right. It's not about products. It's about concepts and ideas. Not only will you have a neat car, but you'll be hip/young/cool/something-you're-not-but-want-to-be. These ad guys (and gals) are bringing some flair and originality into my TV set. As long as there are no more Noids and chalupa-loving chihuahuas, I'm good.

by jimnice at December 12, 2002 3:40 PM

It is a great teaser ad, but I find it utterly depressing. Like a trendy car will make your dull, repetitive, beige office life better. I would have shot myself long before I spotted the bug.

Maybe that hot office chick is in the bug? Damn teasers.

by MrBlank at December 12, 2002 4:20 PM

Not to dampen holiday spirits any further, but I believe no one's immune to Mad Ave's pernicious influence. And the ad men couldn't care less what products you consume so long as it's a lot of them. The divvying up of profits will work itself out in time provided materialism reigns. Though I have resolved never to purchase another item from Old Navy due to those grating Family Fleece ads featuring that blonde chick who used to be a man.

by anna at December 12, 2002 8:51 PM

I love that commercial, too. My life isn't at all like that. Every day really is different. Of course.

by andrew at December 12, 2002 10:55 PM

I dunno. I'm kinda irritated by the whole notion of a car commercial that doesn't actually have, you know, a car in it. Such blatant attempts at manipulation do not work on me.

The VW series where they kept parking the car in front of rounded objects, though, those I liked. Very clever.

by Muad'Dib at December 13, 2002 1:30 PM

I've never actually been persuaded to buy anything because of an ad, but I have to admit that one of those iMac ads did catch my attention (the one with the guy making faces at the iMac in the window, not those "hi, my name is" ones) and I at least looked at the computer the next time I was in Future Shop.

Print advertising for magazines is also slanted at selling lifestyle. If you want a laugh, read any of the copy that goes with Ford/GM/Chrysler truck ads. *snicker*

by Opal at December 13, 2002 3:21 PM

Osama is gonna transit strike yo' ass. Osama is gonna praise Strom Thurman and not say Osama is sorry. Osama is gonna molest young boys and not resign as Archbishop. I am Archbishop Osama! Osama has been terrorizing the boys in Boston ever since Danny Wood and Jon Knight. Osama went to see Main in Manhattan today at the Kips Bay Theater. Osama likes the stadium style seating.

by Osama at December 13, 2002 7:21 PM

I like that JAGUAR commercial with the Jew couple that lives in Scarsdale ,NY, where the wife takes a polaroid of the driveway.... And a Jag worth the entire gross domestic product of the Middle East is sitting there, and the wife gives a kinky smile, no wonder they want to Kill us all. Fucking Globalization and its Discontents, I saw some fat little girl in Rhode Island devouring a pizza to the point where she hoisted her leg up in avarice joy, she was so obese at such a young age, I hope China doesn't allow the Mcdonaldization process, it would be a bit sad, I love capitalism, but too much will allow the Yids to really take over the world at large. Already a bunch of I-banking yids established in Bejing.

by Lockheed at December 13, 2002 11:48 PM

What the hell? When'd things turn so racist? I know the name of the site is "bad samaritan," but you don't have to be an asshole to be a dumb ass, you know what I mean Lockheed? Aside from the jew hating, you've got a point, though. Which makes me recondiser my point. It sort of makes me wish I hadn't voted for Thurman back in '48 now either.

by mg at December 13, 2002 11:56 PM

Sounds to me like mg skipped out on Bible study on more than one occasion. Dude, dont you remember that the Jews and the Samaritans didn't get along? The Samaritans considered themselves Jewish in every way, being that they (as a population) sprung up in the Isrealite kingdom when the Assyrians came in. All the while, the Jews had to get the fuck outta there, hiding out in Babylon, but still retaining thier identity while they were there. Long story short, there was a war or something and the Jews got to come back, but they clashed with the Samaritans because the Jews were like, "You people are a bunch of Assyrian half-breeds and WTF is with the pagan religious practices?!" It all goes downhill from there.

by Eviltom at December 14, 2002 12:39 AM

I'm sorry, I was raised Catholic. The only thing I learned in Sunday school was when to sit, when to stand, when to kneel, a couple dialogs, and the approprate times to recite them. What is this Bible you speak of?

by mg at December 14, 2002 1:03 AM

Hey MG, I think EvilTom speaketh of the old King James version, not the new world holy scriptures, where they actually say six hundred and sixty six, instead of six hundred three score and six; and Ronald Wilson Reagan has 6 letters in each part of his full name, and he has Alzheimer's which like the seven headed dragon in Revelations, the one with the maimed head, gets miraculously healed, I'm afraid either Reagan or Charlton Heston might be the Anti-Christ if they survive their afflictions.

by Lockheed at December 14, 2002 1:13 AM

Hey Mike -
For obvious reasons (to you, anyway, since you know me), I'm not putting my website & e-mail up here.
I was going to post about the advertising topic, having worked in the industry and hoping to contribute to the discussion ...
Unfortunately I find myself having to wade through some of the most idiotic and vile comments I've seen in a long time.

by andy at December 14, 2002 10:47 AM

back to the VW commercial for a second....i know ELO were the ones who wrote the song 'Mr Blue Sky,' but does anyone know what band performs it on the commercial? it seems to be a very well done version.....much better than the rather annoying original version...just wondering, ive been trying to find out online.
either way, thanks and much oeace to everyone.

by erin at December 14, 2002 10:53 PM

I meant peace....not oeace

by erin at December 14, 2002 10:54 PM

As advertisements go, that one is very clever--they lead you to believe the guy is checking out that chick or maybe something else. It turns out he is in love with a passing vehicle--that for a brief moment he escapes the mundanity of office life by watching the Beetle convertible drive by. Automobiles are the most-frequently advertised commodities on television, which is a sad commentary on the American public; it suggests people actually buy cars based on their respective advertisements. Otherwise, they wouldn't be advertised so much, right?

by douchenation at December 15, 2002 12:41 PM

Speaking of brilliant ad campaigns, and product-placement on HBO shows like the Sopranos, Apple Computer wins for its latest push hands-down. Virtually every computer on HBO is a Mac--from Curb Your Enthusiasm (the best goddamn show on television) to the Sopranos. Again, I find it sad that someone would plunk down two grand for a machine based on Tony Hawk's "switch ad," but I guess some people haven't the time or are too lazy to research their purchases.

by douchenation at December 15, 2002 12:51 PM

I think they are using the same song in recent ads for the new Spike Jonze film about the author of Being John Malkovic. Old or new, its an awesome song that I must add to the collection.

by Zaphod at December 15, 2002 6:15 PM

Has anyone noticed the influx of Jack-Ass influenced advertising on television since the release of their movie? There is a series of video-game ads that are quite "jackassish," and then there is one that actually has people going down a hill in a shopping cart. I mean, are these people that devoid of ideas that they blatantly lift a stunt from a movie that has been out for a relatively short time? And how successful can these ads be if I can't even recall what product they are pushing? Just wondering...

by douchenation at December 16, 2002 10:49 PM

Sounds like its a manipulated version of Triple Fast Action's cover of the tune -- lots of extra effects and vocals added in the chorus part with everyone humming.... But I am a guessin on that one. At least their version is close to it, but certainly not exact.

BTW, the purpose of these ads is Brand Brand Brand. We are all here yapping about VW. Target hit. I think many people feel just like this guy in the ad and look forward to getting out of the office -- this ad is a homerun. I also don't think he's pining over a VW -- more like he's snapped out of his mundane work induced stupor by the VW finally at the end. I too might have knocked myself off before then, though.

by ymedaca at December 16, 2002 11:02 PM

Yes, I noticed the song's use in the promos for Adaptation. As far as I was able to find out, the song isn't on the movie's soundtrack. Sort of reminds me of how a couple years ago, Fatboy Slim was used in the movie promo for about 5 movies in one summer, appearing on the soundtrack of none of them. Same with Moby more recently.

The version of Mr. Blue Sky in the VW ads is the original, as far as I can tell. Either that, or a ridiculously faithful cover.

We may be talking about the ad here (and on hundreds of other websites), but how many people, no matter how stuck in our head's that song may be, plan to buy a VW because of it? No doubt, VW is a great brand, and a great advertising beast, but do the ads work?

by mg at December 16, 2002 11:11 PM

I may be a douche bag (no need for confirmation, thank you), but the song is not stuck in my head AT ALL. The only thing stuck in my head is the fact that they do not show the actual car. Furthermore, if you buy a car based on a clever ad (and it IS a clever ad), you deserve to be saddled with an over-priced, chopped-top shit box like the Beetle convertible. That might sound a little hostile--and I apologize, but there is no way an existing car with poor performance and shitty torsional rigidity can be improved upon by a higher price tag and a convertible top. This comes from a driving enthusiast's point of view, however.

by douchenation at December 17, 2002 12:41 AM

This kind of advertising definitely works. No, nobody is gonna rush out and throw down 20 grand on a Beatle just because they are exposed 1 minute of some ELO tune, but the people who do buy Beatles (and Jettas and Golfs) do so because vw is a 'cool' brand. These ads don't make people buy cars, they remind people how cool vw's are. You really can't bitch about people buying cars because of an image... cars are an image...

by rodog at December 17, 2002 11:18 PM

I'll bet it will sell some ELO albums...

by blah at December 20, 2002 7:39 PM

The VW 'Mr. Blue Sky' version is a new version done by the origional guy, Jeff Lynne, leader of ELO. More info on ELO and their newest cd, 'Zoom' can be found at www.elomusic.com and www.ftmusic.com. BD

by Brian Demonbreun at February 8, 2004 4:23 AM

Curiously I came across this site and discussion when my girlfriend did a search for this song.

I play in a band and she has suggested we cover it, give it our pared down tinkly celtic feel then slam in with a tumultuous fianle.

The coincidence is that I am a VW enthusiast too, but living in Spain I was unaware of this ad. I hate the new beetle, I hate that VW have taken the peoples car and slapped a huge price tag on it. Go and buy a proper aircooled thing of beauty instead.

There was an excellent UK ad for the peugeot 306, I don't know if you have them in the US. A young lad in India looks longingly at a magazine cutting of a 306. Then there is a rapid fire sequence of him bashing up his indian car (a viceroy I think, based on an old austin) including getting an elephant to sit on the bonnet.

The final scene is of him and his friends cruising in the car that he has remodelled into a crude replica of a 306 while bangra music pumps and all the girls are swooning.

Another clever ad, once again not showing the product, at least not in its original form. It worked, people talked about it, it created awareness of the product.

VW have had a reputation for clever advertising for many years, promoting reliabilty, build quality and strength. This has put them in an excellent market position that allows them to charge that little bit more for the perceived quality.

It works. And so do their cars.


PS like the site, hate the racist BS, although I would argue that Judaism is not a race it is a religion like christianity, hinduism, buddhism, etc.

by Major Brown Eye at January 16, 2005 6:43 AM

Beetle ads should play around the fact Adolf Hitler designed it. Of course I can't think of anything appealing about such an ad... But then, I think the Beetle is a ridiculous looking vehicle anyway.

by Ex Crimson Guard NCO at January 16, 2005 7:16 AM

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