Volkswagen is touting German engineering -- and its Chattanooga-made Passat -- in a online teaser ad for its upcoming Super Bowl commercial.
"We're focusing on the message of German engineering in the vehicles and taking a lighter side," said Jeff Sayen, advertising manager for Volkswagen of America.
The ad is a spoof that begins with "a German engineer" using a so-called algorithm to come up with a commercial for "your big American football festival."
It features former "Baywatch" actress Carmen Electra decked out in a red dress against a black VW Passat with a cast of characters on the set. She unintentionally sets off the Passat's security alarm as part of a chaotic conclusion.
Sayen said the one-minute Super Bowl ad itself also will feature the Passat midsize sedan.
"For us, it's a really key vehicle," he said in a telephone interview. "It's something that's going to be a symbol of the brand."
The VW official said that the lead up to the Feb. 2 Super Bowl is a time for advertisers to reach out and engage people in brands and capitalize on social media space.
"The use of this is primarily in the digital space," Sayen said, adding it's targeted at people age 25-54.
He said the company didn't set out to do a spoof on German engineering, but it turned out to be "an engaging way to talk to people."
Sayen wouldn't say how much VW's actual Super Bowl ad will cost, but noted it will run in the second quarter.
According to Bloomberg/Businessweek, multiple sources are estimating a $4 million price tag for the average 30-second commercial at this year's Super Bowl. Back in the 1980s, marketing people found it shocking when the $500,000 mark for Super Bowl spots was crossed.
The United States continues as a key market for the German automaker.
Martin Winterkorn, VW's chief executive, said last week at the Detroit auto show that the company plans to spend about $7 billion in North America over the next five years, including the launch of a new sport utility vehicle, for which the Chattanooga plant is the frontrunner to assemble.
"The U.S. is a cornerstone of our strategy" for 2018, which involves selling 1 million VW and Audi vehicles in the region within four years, Winterkorn said.
In addition to the Chattanooga plant and one in Puebla, Mexico, the company is building another factory south of the U.S. border to make an Audi SUV.
Last year, VW released a teaser ad for its Super Bowl commercial that featured reggae performer Jimmy Cliff. The ad that eventually ran, dubbed "Get Happy," drew criticism from some as racist for the use of a white office worker with a fake Jamaican accent. Some said the ad depicted white people posing as happy-go-lucky blacks. Jamaica's population is predominantly black.
But, Volkswagen of America's then CEO Jonathan Browning said a "Today" show poll indicated that 93 percent favored the commercial. An online poll by the Chattanooga Times Free Press showed 91 percent of the 705 respondents thought the ad was not racially insensitive.
VW's "Mini-Darth Vader" commercial, also featuring the Passat, broke records for Web hits for a Super Bowl ad.
Contact Mike Pare at email@example.com or 423-757-6318.