Bill Hader and the Volkswagen Jetta – Click above to watch the videos after the break
If you have watched Saturday Night Live the last couple of years, you may share my opinion that the only things truly funny is Weekend Update, when cast members do a really good parody of real people like Sarah Palin, Barack Obama and the like, or when the cast produces video set-pieces beforehand.
When the show goes into original sketches, it can be a long hard, painful, unfunny slog. And this brings me to a new set of video webisodes produced by Volkswagen and ad agency Deutsch/LA starring SNL cast-member Bill Hader.
Webisodes are an increasingly common and important marketing tool used by companies, especially automakers. Ford has especially been making wide use of them as it seeks to be king of social media. The thinking goes like this: We are limited to 30-second and 60-second ads on TV because of cost, but why not get jiggier with longer-form pieces on the net where we don't have to pay for time.
The best of this medium remains BMW's The Hire series of web films.
Click here to continue reading how VW went wrong.
First, the team got too preoccupied with jamming a long list of product benefits into the videos. This is done via a so-called VW product specialist, Danielle Gumro, who rattles off a series of sleep-inducing product benefits while Hader tries, through a series of invented personas, to riff on them. It's painful to watch.
There is a series of these webisodes called "Inside Volkswagen Academy." The information on the webisodes notes that SNL writer John Mulaney was involved in the writing. Memo to Mulaney: I don't know what else is on your reel, but don't include these.
Monty Python cast member Eric Idle once quipped: "What's the difference between life and a 'Saturday Night Live' sketch? Life doesn't go on forever." The same can be said of these webisodes.
When creating an ad, and especially a webisode, the point is to engage people – induce them to want to watch. The challenge is greater, not less, with a webisode that lasts 2:30. During each viewing of these, I looked down at the counter to see how much longer I had to watch. The thought of sharing one of these never entered my mind.
Question for the creative team: Was Gumro forced on you by the client? She is painful to watch. And was neither Andy Samberg, nor Will Forte available? These guys have much higher batting averages with funny than Bill Hader.
I can't help but compare these webisodes to a now classic VW 60-second ad that did an awesome job of engaging, and conveying, a product benefit (i.e. how much room there is in the VW Golf to hold that big chair... now that is showing a product benefit!):
And even this ad/video that was maligned by some critics. I actually liked this series created by former VW ad agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky as I thought it captured some of the spirit of the VW GTI and was humorous enough to warrant sharing and posting.
For an example of how product benefit videos have been improved, check out this one from Ford, which doesn't even try to be funny. It held my attention from start to finish. One of the keys to this one working is that it only tries to convey one major product attribute at a time. When a company tries to jam in every piece of standard equipment and option into a short video, it all just gets lost.
Deutsch made a very good Jetta ad, nicely conveying that the new Jetta has a much lower starting price than most people would think. It has more quality and engagement without turning to an SNL character or writer.