Volkswagen Golf/Gol
Business Category: 
Arnold Worldwide
Volkswagen garnered much attention when it broke this ad featuring two hip young men on the much publicized coming-out episode of "Ellen." The guys salvage a discarded chair into the hatchback of their vehicle as they drive about aimlessly.

By the time the ad hit, ABC's "Ellen" already had reached a fever pitch of
media attention. All season, there was anticipation that its lead character would come out as a lesbian -- then its star, Ellen DeGeneres, came out too.

Numerous advertisers including Chrysler, Mazda, Wendy's and J.C. Penney fled that episode near the end of the season. "Ellen" got great Neilsen ratings and many lesbians and gays immediately thought the VW-two were supposed to be a couple, while most straights assumed them to be roommates.

Volkswagen denied that the men were intended to be boyfriends and said it was surprised anyone would think so--but the automaker didn't mind either. In fact, it began sponsoring gay events in Australia in 1998.

At that time, there had never been a lead gay character in a TV program. But Volkswagen was prepared and did not flee. Says spokesman Tony Fouladpour, "That program had been a 'green light' for us for some time, among those that thought were good opportunities for us. The intention was not to take advantage of the situation, but we had been advertising on the show for a long time and we didn't think we needed to abandon it for the short-lived controversy."

Such gay reads of the ad -- which revived the 1980s Trio song "Da, Da, Da" -- would likely have been less, were it not for Volkswagen's choice of places for the debut. Still, a gay read seemed possible as the driver meticulously wiped an unseen speck of dirt from the dashboard and the silent communication the guys shared with each other as the wandered the roads.

Volkswagen's casual reaction showed how times were changing. When ABC aired an episode of "thirty something" that contained a scene with two gay men merely talking in bed together in 1989, the network lost over $1 million in advertising. Though it had to substitute some ad slots for the famed "Ellen" episode in 1997, ABC actually was able to charge replacement advertisers twice the normal rate.
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