The fallout from Volkswagen's diesel emissions scandal has left the automaker in an awkward spot: It must now fund an ad campaign pushing electric vehicle awareness that highlights competitors' products.
The new commercial, by Deutsch, uses a nostalgic touch with the classic "Flintstones" and "Jetsons" theme songs serving as the backdrops for a premise touting EVs as the modern option for consumers, while casting gasoline engines as outdated. The Chevrolet Bolt owned much of the screen time in an ad that featured cameos from the VW e-Golf and others.
The ad is part of the first national campaign by Electrify America, a wholly owned subsidiary of Volkswagen Group of America. The group, created in 2016, is overseeing a 10-year, $2 billion investment on zero-emission vehicle technology and awareness. The investment was mandated as part of the automaker's legal settlement with government regulators in the wake of VW's diesel scandal in which it admitted to installing software in cars to cheat on emissions tests.
The terms of the agreement call for brand-neutral public outreach and education for zero-emission vehicles, which today represent only a tiny fraction of the U.S. automotive market. ZEVs include battery-electric and hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicles.
The first ad portrays an environmentally conscious man driving a gasoline-powered car. Cue the "Flintstones" music, which suggests he is behind the times. Then, as the "Jetsons" song comes on, his alter ego pulls up in a Chevy Bolt, prompting jealousy from his backward-thinking self. The spot ends by showing a range of currently available electric cars speeding down the highway.
While no automaker's name appears in the ad, the Chevy logo is noticeable in the opening scene as the Bolt pulls up to the traffic light. Less noticeable are the vehicles in the later scenes, which include the Honda Clarity, the Nissan Leaf, the BMW i3, the Hyundai Ioniq and VW's e-Golf.
Guto Araki, executive creative director at Deutsch, said the agency juxtaposed the cartoons set in the stone age and future as a way to subtly suggest that if you are not driving an electric car, you are living in the past. Or as Araki says, "Get with the times, pal."
"If you look at electric car commercials they are so heavy-handed and make you guilty about the environment or choices you make or make you feel uncool," he says. "We like this because it is very personable and lighthearted."