Throwback Thursday: Volkswagen’s Memorable 1999 “Milky Way” Spot | Tier10lab
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Throwback Thursday: Volkswagen’s Memorable 1999 “Milky Way” Spot | Tier10lab

Xavier Villarmarzo

It’s hard to remember the Internet before the turn of the millennium, but it was there, albeit much different and slower than we know it today. But even back in 1999, Volkswagen had a bit of foresight to attract a young audience by debuting what turned out to be one of its most memorable ads on the Internet, well before web videos starting becoming a regular thing.

The Volkswagen Cabrio wasn’t a top-selling model back when Arnold Worldwide approached the German automaker about making a commercial for it. However, the Boston-based agency was able to sell Volkswagen on the idea of the commercial being “more of a brand halo spot,” according to Lance Jensen, former creative director with Arnold Worldwide. The goal was to show the “transcendent experience” about riding in a convertible, especially with the right music, said Jensen in an interview with The One Club.

The commercial was titled “Milky Way” after the name of the song by The Church that was originally supposed to go with it. However, the creative team thought that song was too slow. They opted instead to go with “Pink Moon” from English folk musician Nick Drake. For an ad that featured young people, it was a bold choice to go with a folk song from 1972 right around the height of ‘N Sync, Britney Spears, the Backstreet Boys and the rest of the Teen Pop Revolution.

The song ended up working perfectly, not only with the flow of the ad, but also with its underlying message. In the narrator-less commercial, a group of young people is driving down a dark, star-lit road with the top down. They pull up to a rowdy party, and after a round of silent agreement, they opt to keep driving. Just like the song was unexpected considering the age of the people featured in the commercial, the actions of the young people was also unexpected.

The commercial went live on the Internet on Nov. 15, 1999, one week before it made its debut on various primetime television shows. To attract viewers, Volkswagen deployed an email to over 250,000 consumers directing them to log onto the Volkswagen website on November 15 to watch the commercial. The email also contained Apple’s QuickTime video software, allowing users to enable their computers to download the spot. Additionally, VW directed consumers to the site with a full page print ad that ran in USA Today also on Nov. 15.

Those who visited the site were able to link directly to to purchase “Pink Moon.” The commercial sparked a newfound popularity in the song, which went on to sell multiple copies. In fact, re-releases of the CD featured an “as heard on the VW commercial” sticker. GQ magazine even wrote a feature about the increase in sales of the song.

Today, the commercial is considered by many to be the best Volkswagen spot ever. In early 2013, The One Club, which promotes excellence in advertising, ranked “Milky Way” as no. 9 in its list of the top 10 auto commercials from the past 25 years. The winners were selected from the best of more than 60 award-winning entries, which were judged by a panel of 70-plus ad creatives and journalists.

“Throwback Thursday” (#TBT) is Tier10lab’s look back at some of our favorite automotive advertising campaigns. #TBT runs the last Thursday of each month.

[Sources: Volkswagen, OneClub]