VW continues to live up to its "Drivers Wanted" tagline. Most recently, however, it appears focused on planning for the future, planting the seeds of interest with, and on winning over, those who don’t yet have a license to operate a motor vehicle. As far as I can tell, it appears to be a smart move.

Probably my favorite VW television ads ran in 2006 and featured the quirky white-labcoat wearing automobile technician with a thick German accent, a guy famous for "un-pimping" over-the-top autos and rides, by destroying them in a variety of clever and sudden ways, all the while, exclaiming "Deutschland" or "Vee-Dahb" "in da House," and offering an awkward white-glove hand gesture to form the letters V-W as auditory references to "German engineers" were made:


Apparently, I’m not alone in being moved by these commercials, as this particular copy of the ad has been viewed on YouTube nearly 5 million times since being posted in 2006. To me, the ads were highly effective in reinforcing the strong idea of quality yet affordable German engineering in a very humorous way. To me and others, a perfect third car when the oldest child reaches driving age.

VW’s most recent television Punch-Dub campaign, I’ll have to admit, initially struck me as more than a little juvenile, but, as I’ll explain, without flinching, it is all starting to make enormous sense now (probably no surprise to those creatives behind the wheel at and for VW):


The genius of the "Punch-Dub" campaign, it seems to me, at least based on my personal and household experience, is the emotional interactivity and almost viral character or quality it has spawned.  For weeks now, a day doesn’t go by, or I might say, a car ride with kids, doesn’t go by, without shoulders or other body parts being smacked while calling out "silver one," "red one," etc. Juvenile? Yes. Effective? Clearly. I have never noticed, observed or experienced such a consistent and long-standing reaction to or endorsement of an ad campaign, at least within my household. I fully appreciate it may very well be just a good excuse to release some pent up frustration among siblings, but, let’s not forget, all in the name of the VW brand, to the exclusion of every other car brand that has suddenly become invisible and/or irrelevant on the road to teens and tweens.

To confirm the brilliance of this campaign, I questioned my 13 year old son this evening, who confirmed that the game is only played with the VW brand. He also informed me that it is so popular among those in his grade at school, that those who ride the school bus recently had to be given seat assignments to counter the playing of the Punch-Dub game while riding the bus. Wow.

We almost have another driver in da house, months away in fact, and da wanna-be drivers in our house wanna VW. Kids think of it as a hip ride. Parents think about the safety, reliability, and affordability for a third vehicle. VW appears to have covered both groups whose opinions matter.

I’ll make sure to let you know if they get to drive one. Chances are probably better if the "Un-pimping Rides" campaign makes at least a brief return, since the wanna-be drivers don’t get da final say.

What am I missing about the brilliance of the Punch-Dub campaign, putting aside the unfortunate potential for contributory liability in the likely-to-be-filed-in-the-USA-class-action style personal injury and assault lawsuits?

Actually and seriously, let’s hope not.

  • Hi, Stephen.
    Why has it taken decades for VW to use this game as an ad campaign? The
    game has been around since a long, long, long time.

  • Marta Randall

    This is a game my daughter and her friends were playing in the late 80s
    and early 90s, when they were in elementary school. I never did figure
    out where the game originated, but it’s clear that VW took the game from
    the kids, and not the other way around.
    By the way, it was called Punch Bug and was done only in response to the
    sighting of a VW Bug, of any vintage.

  • The commercial’s kinda cute up until the “un-pimping” part. At that
    point, it’s insulting, especially if you’re trying to teach a
    13-year-old what’s appropriate and what’s not.

  • James Mahoney

    The first ad in this series had me scratching my head. Then it dawned on me: out of the misty backwaters of my brain a rusty memory emerged of sore arms and gleeful “free shots” from long ago. (Rueful disclosure: It was being played at least 20 years before Marta’s daughters discovered it.)
    This was indeed common among those of us of a certain age. That makes me wonder who in the VW constellation remembered it and resurrected it. And yes, it’s a brilliant capitalization on corporate memory, and undoubtedly is causing much gnashing of teeth among parents and other “concerned” parties.
    BTW, it isn’t only tweens and teens. I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I had to consciously short-circuit a visceral “Volkswagen!”-punch reaction the other day. It would have made for a very chilling evening.
    For those of you who never experienced the joy of this “game,” the ads even got the double-punch for doubting the call right. But they probably will never show the inverse of that: if you called VW and landed a shot, and the car was not a VW, you got a double-shot in return. ‘Course, it was easier then, since it was almost impossible to mistake any other car for a VW.
    I’m not sure how or where the original game got started, but the brilliance of it then and now is that it’s engaged large swaths of the population in looking out for, and identifying, VWs.

  • Thanks all for your insights.
    Seems like I should have been exposed to this game before now, given my vintage and the historical roots, but my first experience was with the recent VW ads, and then with my kids living them out in each car ride together.
    By the way, I have confirmed with my kids that they knew nothing about this game until the Punch-Dub ad campaign, so it is clearly reaching those who were unaware of the history, and I’m sure VW is happy to hear that.
    Not sure why it took so long to leverage it in an ad campaign, but it seems to be paying off.
    Thanks again for dropping by and sharing your thoughts and perspectives.

  • Maybe it’s left coast thing, but I thought the game was called “Slug Bug” (1960- 1975) and specifically, targeted toward VW Beetle-only sightings. Mostly played amongst siblings in the back of dads’ fake wood panel clad station wagons on yearly vacation trips to Disneyland, Knot’s Berry Farm, Seal Lion Caves, Sea World, etc.
    In my case, this usually ended up in fist fights where dad had to pull over the car (nearly missing several aluminum camper trailers) -and scolding us harshly. In fact, I recall never really liking this game. Even to this day, the sight of bugs gives me a slight tinge of severe bone pain. Had I been born of the BDSM ilk, this might be elation. But for me, it’s just a reminder of discomfort and bruises followed by depressing vacations.
    I’ve discussed this with a few neighbor kids, and their response is, “Huh?”
    So it really had me wondering who in fact VW is speaking to? Me thinks it’s to the youth market’s parents. The ones who co-sign. Ouch.

  • Among juveniles? My wife is doing it to me now. Apparently (I missed this growing up) this was a common game when she was a kid (I’m not allowed to say how long ago).
    What I find impressive is VW’s continued ability to keep a finger the iconic brand’s cultural role. Most brands do have a vibrant social life outside of the official marketing efforts of brand managers. When embraced, the brand’s communications can be very powerful.