Audiences See Past The Controversy In VW’s Deepfake Ad


VW 70 anos - Gerações


This ad for VW’s 70th anniversary in Brazil shows generations united by the brand and by music. Two women driving VWs from different eras come together to sing a classic song, with a selection of vintage and fresh footage showing the brand’s legacy in Latin America’s biggest market.

It seems like a strong emotional ad from VW and agency AlmapBBDO. But according to our audience insights data, the ad has proved highly controversial – in fact, there is an administrative proceeding by Brazil’s advertising regulator following an intense debate over the ownership of Elis Regina’s image rights. Elis Regina is the woman driving the older VW model – one of Brazil’s greatest singers, who died tragically young in 1982. Her daughter, Maria Rita, became a singer too, and she’s driving the new electric VW and dueting with her late mother.

Confused? It’s all down to AI, pushing boundaries and stoking controversy once again. Skidding in the ethical field, the deepfake ad faced many questions and generated controversy in the marketing press in Brazil.

But would the general audience in Brazil share those objections? Would they be shocked at the Elis Regina deepfake? Would they even notice it? We decided to put the commercial through Test Your Ad, our powerful advertising insights platform. And the answers show that once again there’s a gap between the industry buzz and controversy and what ordinary people think.

The first thing to know is that ordinary viewers love the ad. It’s a 4.6-Star effort, well above the country average, and it generates zero negative emotion at all.

The second thing to know is that this response isn’t being driven by the AI element. In fact, viewers barely notice or mention that it’s an AI ad. They’re responding to the emotional content, not the technology.

So what is pushing that Star Rating higher? There’s a high level of surprise and a lot of happiness, created by the classic song, the sense of togetherness and bonding between the women. Viewers also like the many nostalgic references the ad weaves in. For instance, one character wears a T-Shirt showing Belchior, another 70s and 80s singer whose song “Como Nossos Pais” is sung by Elis and Maria Rita in the ad.

And when we look at the key associations viewers have for the commercial, it’s “evolution” and “innovation” that top the list – viewers are excited by VW’s steps into electric vehicles and the way the brand is celebrating its 70th birthday by looking forward. That’s the technology that’s motivating the audience response – more so than the deepfake used to bring Elis back from the past.

What are the lessons to learn here? As with McDonalds’ and Burger King’s duelling Rio billboards, our market research platform shows that audiences are reacting to the content of AI ads, not to the tech used to make them. The tech is fascinating and controversial to marketers, but ordinary viewers barely notice it. In this case that means they have very positive emotional response to a nostalgic, inspiring, well-crafted ad. The legal complications around deepfakes make them a controversial technology to use, and it’s no surprise the press focus on that. But it’s also always worth asking – is the work effective? In this case the answer is yes.


At System1, we help the world’s largest advertisers make confident creative decisions that lead to transformational business results. Our powerful ad testing platform (Test Your Ad) and our idea testing platform (Test Your Idea) help brands predict the commercial potential of ads and ideas. Complementing TYA and TYI is Test Your Brand, our brand tracking tool which measures the impact of ads and ideas on brand health, ensuring long-term brand growth through predictive success.

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