volkswagen-think-smallVolkswagen is behind some of the most iconic and innovative advertising campaigns in human history.

The German automobile manufacturer’s 1959 Think Small advert was conceived by hallowed copywriter Julian Koenig and is #1 on the list of Advertising Age’s top 100 ads from 1900 to 1999Lemon, Volkswagen’s follow-up campaign to Think Small, was the object of attention on the third episode of Mad Men. And if those aren’t accolades enough, both campaigns are referenced in Wikipedia’s 7,900+ word entry on “Advertising.”

Given Volkswagen’s revered status in the industry, it’s disappointing to see the company make safe, familiar advertising decisions. And their latest partnership with TLC.com for the the original web series, The Great Getaway is nothing but safe and familiar.

Produced by TLC, the five-part web show follows the seven-member Woods family on their road trip to Sedona, AZ and features the comfortable stylings of the VW Routan all along the way. Video journals (many of which were shot by the Woods themselves) are strung together in an attempt to document the vacation happenings of a well-behaved, affluent, whitewashed, loving familial unit from Suburban, USA. Shots of the Routan, the Routan’s accessories, the family packing and unpacking the Routan, and the family getting in and getting out of the Routan are routine. It’s like your typical 30-second car commercial, except with added exposition and almost 40 times as long.

I get it. Brian Thomas, General Manger of Brand Marketing at Volkswagen of America, wants to sell the Routan to well-behaved, affluent, whitewashed, loving families from Suburban, USA. That’s okay. That’s his target audience. And maybe the best way to hit that target audience was to cast its perfect embodiment.

On a lot of levels it makes sense. It’s just that when Volkswagen has such a distinguished advertising history, you’d expect one of their first efforts into the burgeoning world of branded web series to have more brass. In The Great Getaway, VW thinks safe. Next time, the company should take a page from Apple’s advertising playbook and think different.

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