VW’s Highly Awarded Ad Wins Acclaim – But Is It For The Right Reason?


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’s a strong emotional ad from VW and agency AlmapBBDO, and one we made our global Ad Of The Week several months ago. It’s come back in the spotlight as it’s won a mighty 5 Lions at Cannes 2024. So we decided to revisit it for this debut LATAM Ad Of The Month.

Why did this VW commercial appeal to strongly to Cannes Lions juries? There’s a hidden innovation in the ad which also proved highly controversial and generated a ton of publicity on the ad’s release.

The controversy centred on Elis Regina, the woman driving the older BMW model. She is one of Brazil’s greatest singers, and she also 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.

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. And the answers show that once again there’s a gap between the industry 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.

As we’ve seen looking at the Cannes Lions results for film winners from the UK and US, the juries don’t always get it right. In fact, the average Test Your Ad score for winners isn’t too far off the average score for all ads.

So here’s a great example of juries recognising a genuinely strong, emotional, high scoring ad. But have they given the right awards for the wrong reasons?

What this ad shows us is 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 or care about it. In this case that means they have very positive emotional response to a nostalgic, inspiring, well-crafted ad. Cannes juries may be reacting to the AI element in handing out those five awards, and it’s no surprise they respond to technical innovation. But in this case the ad would deserve them even if both performers were flesh and blood.  Tech wizardry is one thing, but it’s also always worth asking – is the work effective? In this case the answer is yes.

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