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Volkwagen?s mobile stunt inserts brand into texting and driving conversation

A Volkswagen AG advertising campaign targeting distracted driving put a group of mobile phone users at a movie theater right into the automaker?s message about the deadly hazards of texting and driving.

The ad used location-based text messaging to force the theatergoers? attention away from a film featuring a driver?s-eye view of a car traveling down the road just before it crashes. The strategy points to how brands can use mobile to engage audiences and increase their relevance when they insert themselves into a conversation on an important issue such as texting and driving.

?We see this as an innovative way to interactively communicate with an audience, as it engages with action and creates an immediate impact in changing consumers' mindset,? said OgilvyOne Beijing, an agency under Ogilvy & Mather Group, China, which produced the ad. The quote was provided by Wendy Fung in the corporate communications office of Ogilvy & Mather China in Beijing.

?The audience members were moviegoers, and the short film was shown as if it was a trailer before the main feature.?   

Shocked viewers
Volkswagen?s ad departed from past efforts by taking the message directly to the audience.

Spectators in a Hong Kong theater had no idea they were about to become part of a advertising campaign. Thinking they were watching a trailer before the main feature, they were ripe to be surprised.

As those in the audience watched a film showing a driver?s-eye view of an ostensibly pleasant highway journey, an unexpected text message compelled them to look down at their phones. At that moment, the car went out of control and crashed into a tree. A Volkswagen message that came on next urged recipients not to text and drive.

Battling an epidemic
A video of the audience responding to the ad in the Hong Kong theater has attracted more than 15 million views on YouTube since being posted June 6.

Volkswagen?s cinematic assault on distracted driving comes a year after the German automaker last July launched a poster campaign that sought to highlight the dangers of texting while driving, produced with Ogilvy & Mather Cape Town, South Africa.

Grim statistics
While the Volkswagen campaign ran in China, texting and driving is a growing problem around the world as mobile adoption continues.

In 2010, driver distraction caused 18 percent of all fatal crashes, killing 3,092 people, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.  Eleven percent of drivers aged 18 to 20 who were involved in an automobile accident and survived admitted they were sending or receiving texts when they crashed, the agency reported.

Forty percent of U.S. teens say they have been in a car when the driver used a cell phone in a way that put people in danger, according to a Pew survey. The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that text messaging creates a crash risk 23 times worse than driving while not distracted.

Currently there is no national ban on texting or using a wireless phone while driving, but a number of states have passed laws banning texting or wireless phones or requiring hands-free use of wireless phones while driving.

Joining the conversation
The Volkswagen ad reflects how brands are increasingly leveraging mobile to insert themselves into a conversation about an important issue or popular topic.
?Stunt videos have been on the rise,? said Eric Johnson, founder and president of New York-based agency Ignited. ?The VW ad is a stunt with a purpose, and is unique enough to deserve to be shared.

?When brands can insert themselves into a conversation, such as texting and driving, they become more relevant and interesting,? Mr. Johnson said.  ?It reflects that they care about their customers' safety ? without ever making a safety claim about air bags or JD Power ratings.?

Volkswagen?s youth push
The ad continued Volkswagen?s effort to tap the power of mobile technology to target a younger, tech-savvy audience.

In September, it unveiled a new tablet advertising campaign that included video, location and animation to promote the automaker?s TDI Clean Diesel technology. The car brand?s ads ran within the Motor Trend and Automobile Magazine iMag editions and primarily promoted the mid-size Passat vehicles. Volkswagen worked with Deutsch LA, MindOverEye and MediaCom on the ad campaign. (see story).

Volkswagen has been active in both geo-location and tablets in the past as well.

Earlier this year, the car brand partnered with Google to develop an Android app that that syncs with a car and social media to let users track their travel experiences. Volkswagen also worked with AKQA in 2012 to develop an iPad app to promote its new 2012 Golf R vehicle.

The combination of tablets and location present a big opportunity for brands to develop larger pieces of creative while also tapping into some of the native features of mobile.

The ad has caused a stir, raising Volkswagen?s profile. ?Volkswagen is very, very excited about the success of the campaign,? said Carsten Krebs, director of corporate communications for Volkswagen Group of America, Inc. in Herndon, VA.

?I really hope  that now more the people have their eyes on the road.?

Final Take
Michael Barris is staff reporter on Mobile Marketer, New York