Over the decades, the Volkswagen Beetle had evolved into a car preferred by women. Its cute design and flower holder had convinced men that it was too girly – and all the purchase data and conversation around it agreed. This was a problem for Volkswagen. Why? Because while you might be able to sell a guy’s car to girls, you can’t sell a girl’s car to guys. On its quest for unprecedented brand growth, Volkswagen needed men to love the Beetle. They ‘manned up’ the car with a redesign that made the car faster, stronger, and sleeker. But while the new model may have had the right style for male buyers, the perception about the brand hadn’t changed. Volkswagen needed to produce content that would give the Beetle a masculine edge, while remaining true to the brand’s identity. For most carmakers, tapping the male audience might mean a product placement: an explosion-filled chase in a Hollywood blockbuster… but that’s too heavy for the Beetle. They still wanted to preserve the Beetle values of fun and irreverence. Research showed that action and adventure was a male passion point that they could focus on – so Volkswagen decided to make the Beetle “your cool friend” – the guy who does cool stuff you can only dream about. They used media to put Beetle in a place every guy wishes they could be (maybe once): swimming with sharks. The Discovery Channel’s cultural phenomenon “Shark Week” was the perfect platform – a spectacle of teeth, blood and guts, it delivers male viewers in big numbers. With the 25th anniversary of the event falling in 2012, this was expected to be the most compelling Shark Week ever. In partnership with Discovery, Volkswagen engineers and shark photographers, VW created a fully-operational underwater Beetle – the cool, totally manly “Shark Observation Cage.”
This wasn’t just a cage, but a perfect replica of the iconic car. The submersible vehicle was equipped with a full air system and turbo packs to drive underwater, while the frame and design were unmistakably Beetle, down to the last detail. The side-view mirrors even contained the warning that “Sharks in mirror are closer than they appear. To drive home this impressive feat, Volkswagen produced a series of mini-episodes that chronicled the development process, from design to construction culminating in its drop into shark-infested waters. They seamlessly integrated this content during Shark Week: these episodes aired on TV and online, with viewers able to watch and grab additional content on our tablet co-viewing app. VW used teaser content across their social properties to draw interest, and Volkswagen had 100% share-of-voice on the Shark Week landing page. They then blanketed the Discovery Channel and Shark Week digital experience with brand messaging across all touch-points. And to drive viewership and strengthen the connection between Volkswagen and Shark Week, they collaborated on promotional assets that included tagged tune-ins, out-of-home executions and print ads. Finally, to build buzz, they showcased the Beetle Shark Cage at a VW dealer event and a huge Shark Week premiere party. The Shark Observation Cage became a hotly anticipated pop culture event in itself, with coverage in the New York Times, Advertising Age and more. Volkswagen needed to appeal to men who were into the blood and guts of Shark Week, while staying true to the Beetle’s spirit. The Beetle would have been out of place in a racing game – or any other environment that would be natural to a sports car. But turning the Beetle into a shark observation cage? This wasn’t just branded content – it was an innovative idea that was authentic to the brand and the audience, while fitting in seamlessly with the Shark Week context.
And on the international stage, people agreed. The Beetle Shark Cage competed with other global campaigns and was recognized with honors at both the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity and the Festival of Media. The campaign was also shortlisted for "Best Local Execution" for the M&M Global Awards 2013. According to Justin Osborne, general manager, marketing communications of Volkswagen of America, “We’re always looking for creative ways to extend our brand beyond traditional channels like TV, and Shark Week provides the perfect platform to do that. We had such an overwhelming positive response from both VW and Shark Week fans last year that we really wanted to create some engaging and unique shark content across multiple mediums that they’d enjoy.” In fact, Volkswagen was back on Shark Week for 2013 – and debuted their shark cage as a fast-moving convertible. Equipped with ailerons and more thrusters, the car can actually fly through water. And as part of an amplified digital and social presence, viewers were able to take the shark cage on an amazing Subaquatic Road Trip (including among shipwrecks) with a 360-degree underwater view on the Shark Week website. In their inaugural campaign, Volkswagen saw an immediate impact: Beetle monthly sales topped 3,000 units in August – the highest total of the year! And who was driving the jump? It was all about the guys – with the percentage of male buyers jumping to 40% - a lift of 20%. Brand recall, likeability and brand opinion scores all SHOT past competitive benchmarks. Average digital engagement on the Shark Week site was an incredible 28.5 minutes, with five million views overall. The VW playlist had 350,000 views with a way-above-average 65% completion rate, and Volkswagen saw over 1.8 million Facebook posts generated about the Beetle Shark Cage! In only one world can a beetle take on a shark…and win!