Volkswagen's Heroic Star Wars Journey Down Madison Avenue

For fanboys (and girls) "The Dog Strikes Back" is the best 2012 Super Bowl commercial.

What a German auto has to do with a pooch's shaping up is hard to deduce, but this commercial certainly makes an impression on the imbibers at Chalmun's Cantina in the pirate city of Mos Eisley.

Volkswagen released an earlier teaser called "The Bark Side" to warm up audiences for the Super Bowl favorite.

The German auto maker must have determined that everybody likes dogs and Star Wars, hiring some Jedi Dog Trainers to produce this canine symphony of "The Imperial March" aka "Darth Vader's Theme." Soloists include Chewbarka, Dog Vader, DAT-AT, oh please, don't get started with the pooch puns.

And here's last year's Super Bowl commercial to which the bar fly in "The Dog Strikes Back" alludes--"Are you kidding? The dog is funnier than the Vader kid"--Hmmm . . . you be the judge.

Star Wars seems to have become an icon of American, strike that, world culture. The good-versus-evil morality prevalent in the hero's journey winds up in the lowest derivation of popular culture -- television commercials. Not only that, but these commercials went viral almost as soon as they aired. In addition, George Lucas' Star Wars has made over $20 billion in the merchandise universe selling flashlight sabers, plastic Darth helmets, and video games.

Toby Miller, social scientist and chair of Media and Cultural Studies at UC Riverside believes "The great achievement of Star Wars had been to take a moribund genre in science fiction and restore it to popularity. George Lucas took a genre that looked cheesy and made it look like a high-concept movie by investing in new ideas, technologies and people. Finally, the story and imagery have been the stars rather than the actors." There's all kinds of things to argue with in that statement, including the idea that science fiction is/was a "moribund genre"? What univers(ity) is that Professor living in? But I digress . . . What does Star Wars have to do with selling geeky German automobiles? Maybe the answer lies in transference - we can transfer the success of Star Wars onto ourselves if we buy that car. Maybe those commercials say, "It's good to be a geek, so buy a geeky (yet cool) car." It seems that Madison Avenue has entered our collective souls alongside George Lucas' empire. What is the ethos (authority), pathos (emotion), and logos (logic) behind all these :30 second Star Wars related interruptions?

If we look at these commercials as an extension of the Star Wars legacy, you can make a pretty deft analysis of the hero's journey. Think of society as the hero getting ready to embark on its mission and leave the innocent world of childhood behind. Were we innocent before television commercials? Certainly, we were less affected by advertising for the simple reason that we weren't exposed to quite as much. As society waited to take that first step across the threshold, did we make a first refusal to resist such creative, yet costly, temptations? You'll always have people that say, "Commercialism of an icon like Star Wars is a travesty," but what would George Lucas say? How does the profit factor create or limit creativity. Remember, Mozart didn't produce anything for free. Supernatural aid exists in the form of that magic we call technology, such as that little bit of iPhone magic in our pockets. Crossing the first threshold may have taken place at the movie theater, Toys-R-Us, and/or your local video game or comic book store.

Puzzle me this, earthling, how, when, and where did we as a society enter the Belly of the Whale?


  1. Society as a whole is adrift in a vast, dark ocean with every part living in a different stage of the Hero's Journey. Narrowing it down to the commercialism of popular literature, such as Star Wars, I would disagree and say that we are not in the Belly of the Whale. The Belly of the Whale, in my opinion, is clearly the internet. A foreign substance(a fluid really)for the world to connect anyone with anything. A tool that can be used to sell items or ideas. Even as much as a blog post can sway someones mind into or out of buying a product. Belly of the Whale indeed. ^^

  2. Using animals has always been an effective tactic in advertising. Using the Star Wars theme is also very effective because everyone has seen Star Wars so then the advertisements become relate-able to the audience. Relating to the audience is very important in an advertisement because it increases the chances of the add being remembered by the viewer, and being remembered is the number one goal of the add creator. I personally like the third add in this post because it is so funny to me and i have seen it on TV before. The other two adds I have never seen before and i am unable to hear them on this computer so i cannot experience them fully.

    1. I think so too! Using Star Wars in advertising catches the attention of all as almost everyone knows what Star Wars is. The theme can boost the out reach of a product to easy catch your attention and entertain you. All while advertising an idea or product.

  3. The Effect of Society

    Star Wars is a well known series in the United States. This series has gotten very popular and majority of the people in the country has heard about it. I, personally thought that it was very smart for the advertising company to relate the Volkswagen to Star Wars. The commercials do not directly list that the object is the car. The commercial focuses on the characters at Darth Vader and towards the end, the commercial starts to reveal about the car. In the first commercial, the dog was very fat and slow. There is a metaphor used stating that the dog is like the car. The dog lost weight and became very fast and a better, improved version. The ad is saying that the car itself has improved many of its flaws and became a better, much improved model. While on the other hand, the other two commercials grasp the audiences' attention by relating to Star Wars. The dogs barking to the theme song is very creative and can definitely grasp people's attention because the song is well known, catchy, and the dogs are talented. Moreover, in the last commercial also related to the series and brings forth a the commercial towards a humorous direction. Overall, I think that society has a huge affect on us, but we are not "in the belly of the whale." We have our own mind and directions, but we are just very much affected by society. But indeed, I have to admit, it is really clever for the ads to draw people' attention by using Star Wars.

  4. Commercials, from the start, have always had a big influence on the society, but I do not believe that it means we are "in the belly of the whale". Ever since I started watching the TV series Mad Men, I've become more interested in commercials and their style of capturing the audiences attention. Honestly I believe all of these commercials were really clever, and the first one especially really encouraged me to go and see what type of changes Volkswagen has made to make their original car "slimmer" and "faster". The commercials weren't confusing or boring, and they managed to get their point across. The Star Wars reference affected the commercials a lot by adding humor, sense of cool, and nerdy appeal to the car. It made me kinda feel like if I was a Jedi, I would drive a Volkswagen =)

  5. Having Star Wars mixed alongside with Dogs and even the little kid pretending to be Darth Vader has a sense of emotion. The most import aspect to a commercial is to make it hit home with the audience. Make the commercial relate with the audience. In my opinion the one with "the vader kid" is much more relatable because everyone as a kid growing up wishes to have the power of the "force", this little kid tries and tries again until finally his powers form on the volkswagen car. Little does he know its his father who truly had the power to remote start the car, but still make it believable that the kid had the power of the force. Understanding this is what makes the commercial so amusing because we all want powers and we all want a new car. Therefore, if you get this new car, you too can pretend to have the power of the "force." I do not believe we have entered the belly of the whale.

  6. I very much like the star wars commercial. The little boy was so cute!!! This commercial definetly used pathos to appeal to the audience. The end of the commercial when the dad turned on the car for the little boy was so heart warming. It was just precious that the little boy thought he had finally mastered his powers and was Darth Vader. After watching the commercial I read the article below and I do agree that commercials do have some affect on advertising merchandise and movies. However, I do not think that commercials have a HUGE impact on society. I for one hate watching commercials I usually just fast forward or don't watch T.v at all so to say that commercials impact what we buy I believe that this is only half true.

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