Brooke Shields, Nazis, what does it all mean?

by Rebecca Lang

Possibly the strangest commercial out there is the Volkswagen ad that features Brooke Shields pretending that the ad is a public service announcement to discourage women from getting pregnant "just for German engineering." This ad p-sses people off. It doesn’t make cars look exciting and off-road compatible, shiny, or apt to drive along cutely to a Nick Drake song. The connection to pregnancy seems arbitrary and badly explained, and Brooke Shields is there, for some reason. But after seeing it seventeen million times, I’ve come up with two possible goals that the ad is trying to achieve:

1. Volkswagen is trying to replace any lingering associations with its company and its historical relation to Nazi death camps. Yeah, the company benefitted from the forced labor of World War 2, which might conjure up disturbing associations with bald, skeletal victims. This is Volkswagen’s sideways attempt to create new, so-senseless-they’re-memoralbe associations between Volkswagen and fertility. They’re trying to cover up the death with a "boom" of new life.

2. It is mocking the idea of public service announcements and commercials at the same time. Yeah, spokespeople are annoying and they try to be cute in front of products by giving their own wisdom of life and knowledge of the biz. But this is Volkswagen giving a kind of apology/promise-that-they’re-above-that. They want to reinforce the senselessness of celebrities being connected to an ad campaign by making the senselessness the primary element of their own ad. And it kind of works.