In playful rivalry, Dodge pokes fun at Volkswagen Passat

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In Dodge’s “Not So Fast and Furious” ad, a VW Passat overtakes a Dodge Challenger. This irks “Fast N’ Loud” star Richard Rawlings, who pulls over the Challenger driver for breaking “Dodge Law.”

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Dodge has been throwing playful barbs at Volkswagen for nearly two years in Charger ads that target the Passat in punchlines.

Yet Dodge insists it has no sinister intentions in the commercials.

Dodge has released five spots since November 2013 poking fun at VW’s family cruiser with its signature attitude.

Why has Dodge singled out the Passat? It wanted to choose a competing brand and vehicle that were polar opposites of them.

Dodge initiated the rivalry in November 2013 with the “Poster” ad, which shows the Charger emerging from a cloud of dust while the narrator says no one had a Passat poster on the wall as a kid.

Dodge released several more ads in the following months, including one that enlisted Richard Rawlings, star of “Fast N’ Loud” on the Discovery Channel.

In “Not So Fast and Furious,” Rawlings and his computerized monkey partner cracked down on a Challenger driver who was passed by a Passat. The duo pulled up in a Charger in the spot, which was released in March.

VW could only sit back for so long before responding.

VW countered in April with a Passat TDI commercial that appears to jab at the Chrysler 300’s fuel economy while subtly poking the Charger as the diesel-powered Passat zooms by it.

Dodge struck back in June with a second version of its “Morse Code” Charger spot, in which the Dodge brothers tell Passat owners through flashing lights, “I’d rather walk than drive your car.”

Staff Reporter Vince Bond Jr. spoke with Randy Ortiz, 34, head of Dodge and SRT brand advertising, about Dodge’s playful rivalry with VW.

Q: How did this start?

A: It started back in 2013. We launched a spot called “Poster.” Going head to head with the competition in ads is nothing new to the industry. It’s been done for years. We just wanted to find a different way to create an “us vs. competitor” ad instead of just going spec for spec, comparing horsepower or mpg or something like that. We just looked for a competitive brand and a competitive vehicle that was a polar opposite of ours. We thought Passat would be a great fit for an idea like that. Dodge and Volkswagen are two very different brands; and Charger and Passat are two very different vehicles with different demographics in terms of consumers. We just wanted to create something that was playful and lighthearted and have a little fun. It’s taken off from there.

Dodge vs. Volkswagen

Ortiz: “Healthy little rivalry”

In the beginning, were there any other cars you considered besides the Passat? 

From the beginning, our goal was to find a brand that was completely opposite of Dodge. Passat was the front-runner from Day 1. We just felt it would be fun and spark a healthy little rivalry and competition. They’ve obviously responded with one of their recent ads, but we’re still winning five ads to one. Their move. 

Did the brand plan on this lasting so long? 

As we kind of worked through different campaigns and worked through different ideas, it would get thrown out there, ‘Hey, I wonder if we could fit a Passat reference into this certain body of work.’ We’ve created a lot of ads over the last 24 months, and five of them happened to mention Passat. If it works, great. We like to have a little fun with it. If not, no big deal.

Have you met with any VW execs about the ads? 

No, we have not. There hasn’t been a lot of banter about this between Dodge and Volkswagen, but there has been a lot of chatter online. Every time we release one of these spots, it creates a lot of conversation. What’s great about it is it’s all in good fun. It’s lighthearted, it’s not disparaging or disrespectful or anything like that. That’s how we want to keep it. Just keep it fun and very tongue-in-cheek. It’s just a little something different that we’re trying. It seems to work.

A Volkswagen Passat TDI zooms past a Dodge Charger in VW’s “Mom” spot, a response to Dodge’s ads that have poked fun at the German automaker.

How did you feel when you saw Volkswagen’s response? 

When you create as many ads as we have over the last 24 months, you expect some sort of response. We’re glad to see that they’re open to this healthy rivalry and put Charger in one of their ads. It’s just something fun and lighthearted. Here at Dodge, we’re always trying to do things different and unexpected. Our brand is irreverent; we have a great sense of humor. 

Are you surprised they waited so long to put their own commercial out? 

No, not really.

Dodge initiated the rivalry with its “Poster” ad in November 2013.

Are there any concerns that you are giving Volkswagen free publicity? 

No. It’s not uncommon to mention the competition in advertising. But like I said, the norm has been to try and go head to head in terms of horsepower, mpg or specific features that one vehicle has vs. the other. 

We’ve taken a different approach where we’re playing the attitude card, where Dodge stands for a certain attitude and we have a certain consumer base that is vastly different than Volkswagen and Passat. We’re going with that angle. Instead of trying to play the numbers game, which a lot of brands try to do, we’re going more toward an attitude or lifestyle type of angle.  

Do you think this playful approach is the best way to mention the competition? 

If you can create a campaign or an ad that resonates with people where they think it’s funny or want to talk about it and they want to make comments online, that’s something that we strive to do. These ads over the last couple of years have seemed to do that. 

When is the next installment in this rivalry? 

Nothing up our sleeves at the moment, but we obviously keep it top of mind. If we come across an idea or certain ad where we think it can fit, we’ll definitely give it a shot and keep it going.

You can reach Vince Bond Jr. at vbond@crain.com. — Follow Vince on Twitter


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