The VW Polo ‘suicide bomber’ viral/ad… well done, Dan Brooks and Lee Ford

This entry was posted on
Wednesday, January 26th, 2005
7:10 pm and is filed
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Being an enemy of George W. Bush makes me a friend to terrorists everywhere, so of course I was greatly amused when I first saw the ‘suicide bomber’ ad that may or may not have been made for VW that first appeared around the 15th of this month. In fact, I laughed so hard I forgot to blog it. But I’ll leave the funny/not debate to others. I’m going elsewhere on this and I want to start with a rough timeline of headlines:

18 Jan: VW’s ad is spoof on terror
19 Jan: Volkswagen distances itself from suicide bomber viral ad
20 Jan: Volkswagen denies offensive viral marketing
20 Jan: Volkswagen planning to take legal action
24 Jan: VW threatens suit over bogus suicide bomber ad

24 Jan: Media Daily News – Volkswagen Fights Viral Infection: Lee and Dan, a London-based Independent agency, has taken credit for the spot, which treads the line between edgy and offensive, but the U.K. agency has not yet publicly stated who – if anyone – funded the spot – which has high production values and appears to be professionally made. VW vehemently denies having anything to do with the effort. “Volkswagen dissociates itself absolutely from a hoax advertisement that has recently been accessible via the Internet,” a VW spokesperson said. “Neither Volkswagen nor any agency acting on behalf of Volkswagen was involved in any way with the creation, production, or distribution of this material.”

26 Jan: VW to sue Polo bomb ad duo: Both Lee and Dan have apologised for the film, which they said had a 40,000 (pound) budget, but have refused to identify themselves or explain how it was funded. But in a new development, has tracked down the director of the spoof advert, Stuart Fryer, 35. Breaking his silence for the first time, he said he was horrified by the reaction to the ad and had only ever meant it to be used on a showreel and never seen by the public. He disputed Lee and Dan’s estimate of its 40,000 (pound) cost, saying the cost had been “more like 400 (pounds)”. “If it cost that much I would like to know where the money went,” Mr Fryer said. “It was made in my spare time. It’s remarkable what you can do for such a low budget.”

As Snopes points out: Companies often try to obscure the connections between themselves and their viral ads, sometimes claiming that promotions were “unauthorized” or “accidentally released.” Though this technique may be effective in generating publicity, it can also backfire: If someone does indeed produce an unauthorized viral ad that creates negative publicity for the business it supposedly promotes, how can a company prove they weren’t behind it? This is the dilemma currently faced by Volkswagen regarding a viral ad seemingly calculated to offend as many human beings as possible.

The 40K figure initially read to me as part of a PR plug for Lee and Dan’s services; as in: ‘yes, we made the ad – and this is what it costs to make one of your own’… but that funding question had been bouncing around since the 40K figure was revealed by them. That the director broke his silence to do something so important as to refute this figure and present a ridiculously low one in its place strikes me as suspicious.

Some folks at World Net Daily and Ad Rag have similar doubts about the actual distance between this ad and VW or its agency DDB. In fact, in the latter link, you’ll find an interesting comment by Caffeine Goddess: “I’ve been thinking, it’s not really that far fetched that VW did think of making this as a viral ad. In October 2003, they had that Bollocks ad that was created for TV but because of the language, they ran it as a viral instead. Also by BMP DDB, London.

The Goddess continues with this wry observation today: “Looks like VW is still promising to sue the VW polo suicide ad creators. Strange that VW can’t find them. Especially if they created the ad to show to their ad agency- someone, somewhere must have a business card they left behind.”

Hehehe. Well said.

Oh, and the last names of Lee and Dan that seem so elusive? It took me about 2 minutes to track down the name Dan Brooks.

UPDATE – Lee and Dan were also behind, which appears to have been withdrawn for some unknown reason (leaving only unprotected directories behind). Here’s Google’s cache. There’s nowt to see; I just find it curious that this site was removed this week.

UPDATE – You can see one of the slug clips on Lee and Dan’s site. If you feel you must.

UPDATE – And what is it with the semi-private-showreel-only-meant-to-be-seen-by-a-select-few line of bull? These people deal in viral videos for a living. What did they expect would happen after they published it on their own website?

UPDATE – Via Site-9 WeblogVolkswagen Disavows Suicide Bomb Ad; Viral Marketing Firm Connected

UPDATE (1st Feb) – CNN – Makers of VW bomber film come clean: Volkswagen said in a statement it had received sworn statements from the two creators – Dan Brooks and Lee Ford – acknowledging that they made the ad but had not intended for it to be distributed.

1. Makers of viral videos publish a video on their website and don’t expect it to be distributed? Puh-lease!
2. With all the time, money and sensitive negotiations that went into the new Gene Kelly ad (you can see it here) I’m not suprised tha VW were so willing to throw Dan and Lee to the wolves. Or perhaps the hamsters. After all, all VW did was *threaten* to sue unless the boys ‘withdrew’ the ad (good luck collecting all those versions saved to hard drives around the planet; soon to appear at a mirror location near you) and made a statement that VW and DDB had nothing to do with it.
3. I’m not buying it.

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