The Super Bowl is one of the most highly viewed annual programs on Earth. As such, it’s a major target for ad men, with prices starting at a record $4 million for a quick 30-second spot last year. Each year, it seems as though more and more people are tuning into the big game, not to see which team walks away with a trophy, but to watch the — often extraordinarily elaborate — advertisements.
When Super Bowl ads go right, they can propel a brand to the forefront of the national consciousness, given their inherently massive viewing figures, and there is no greater example of this phenomenon than “The Force,” a one-minute commercial for the 2012 Volkswagen Passat.
Propelled by a wave of social media since its debut in 2011, “The Force” has become the most shared ad of all time, receiving over 49.4 million views in its first year alone, and is now as iconic as VW’s “Lemon” campaign.
The commercial features a young boy dressed as the infamous Star Wars villain Darth Vader as he tries to use the Force, the film’s mystical energy field, to manipulate household items with absolutely no success. Eventually, he is able to start his father’s new VW Passat using only his powers, or so he believes. The viewer sees the father utilizing the car’s remote start feature to surprise his son as he stands in the driveway.
The ad, created by Deutsch Inc., is now considered a paradigm of viral marketing. Its enormous social reach has made it one of the most viewed videos of all time. This spot was recognized at this past year’s North American International Auto Show as one of the best automotive ads of the last 25 years. Critics have repeatedly highlighted the spot’s well-made tribute to an American cultural mainstay as well as the ad’s simple humanity and sense of whimsy.
These factors have allowed “The Force” to transcend the limits of traditional automotive advertisements and become not only the most viewed advertisement of all time, but one of the most widely consumed videos in recent history as well.