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I know they’re toxic, but . . .

Andrew Steeds

How do you react when you come across something that’s very similar to something you’d been planning to do? A book you’d had an idea for, or an article you were aiming to write – or just an opinion you fondly imagined you were going to be the first to voice? My better self suggests I should be proud: after all, it’s proof that what I was on about was ‘right’, or at least that I wasn’t a lone voice crying in the wilderness. The reality, though, is that most of the time this happens I feel unjustifiably annoyed and angry, as if someone has dared to steal my idea – though, more honestly, I suppose that should be ‘has had the audacity to actually do something I had been thinking might be a good idea for me to get round to thinking about doing’.

But I reacted a bit differently to this Volkswagen ad. I’m not sure that it makes a difference that I drive a VW – they are, as I’m sure you know, the cars people who don’t like cars are supposed to like, and anyway I’m supposed to be brand-blind. Nor is my grudging fondness for Germany at issue, either. But both of those factors affect how I read this. The German bit, first. I love the way this, and other ads for German products (such as the Audi ads), plays with our persistent belief that Germans have no sense of humour. There is a sly humour here, and an ability to laugh at itself, too. And there’s the neat way they manage, in this other-languages-averse country, to introduce a foreign phrase as the sign-off to the ad, in a way very similar to the Audi ads years ago and the phrase (Vorsprung durch Technik) they made famous. Not only that, but they use the singular to do so, as a way of saying ‘There is no other car’ … That’s chutzpah.

I love it that the writing is so dull. This is advertising copy that is unafraid of being boring: nothing about it is exciting, engaging, alluring. The abridged version of the ad – as its longer, uncut version – is free of all frills. It’s not just that this is Ronseal writing, the product of a product that is so sure of itself that it sees no need to dress itself up in fancy clothing. It’s that the writing itself isn’t really the point. It’s the technique that’s the point, the way in which it’s using the dullest of sentences to show that it can talk whichever language you want it to: the geek language or the plain-speaking, penny-pinching one. But it’s quite neat that the final message of either version deflates that criticism commonly laid at the door of Volkswagen – that their cars are expensive for what they are. In its dull way, this is daring to say the opposite.

Technically, of course, I hate this for doing, in just under 40 words, what we at Simply Put spend hours and reams of paper doing for other people – showing them that the same message can be parcelled up for different groups of people. In one sentence it’s removed the unique selling proposition of my company. I should really hate this ad, but I can’t find it in me to be anything other than really pleased to see it.