Volkswagen Bids Farewell to the Beetle, With Help From the Beatles

Johannes Leonardo film lights up Times Square

Johannes Leonardo gives Volkswagen's Beetle an emotional Times Square sendoff, as the iconic compact car—a staple of popular culture for decades and one of the most beloved automobiles ever made—drives off into the sunset.

With sales slipping, and the German automaker preferring to focus on electric vehicles, crossovers and SUVs, the "Final Edition" Beetle rolled out over the summer. To bid auf wiedersehen to the celebrated coupe (and occasional convertible), VW launched an evocative animated film, created with Nexus Studios, at midnight on three prominent outdoor screens in New York City's Times Square, where it will enjoy a weeklong engagement. 

By turns uplifting and bittersweet, the 90-second video, titled "The Last Mile" and set to a choral version of the anthemic 1970 Beatles track "Let It Be," features Easter eggs and celebrity cameos. Look for funnyman/VW influencer Andy Cohen, pop-art legend Andy Warhol (who put the Bug in a screen print) and Kevin Bacon (he drove one in Footlose) as the Beetle glides into history: 

The Last Mile | Beetle

Ad geeks probably caught the references to Doyle Dane Bernbach's uber-classic print advertising that helped introduce the Beetle to the U.S. as the Eisenhower era drew to a close. Indeed, it sometimes pays to think small. And assuredly, this car was the sweetest lemon of all. 

"We felt any product that's played such a big role in our culture shouldn't go quietly," Johannes Leonardo creative chief Lou Premutico tells Muse. "We wanted to give it the sendoff it deserves." 

The film plays out in two acts. After tracing the relationship between a young boy and his Beetle, the action cuts to a hilltop, near a renewable energy farm. "This is the moment the Beetle realizes the future needs something different than what it has to offer," Premutico says. "This is our goodbye, led by the young boy, but culminating in all walks of life who have gathered together for the final farewell."

Originally developed by Hitler's Third Reich as affordable transportation for the masses, the oddly shaped car designed to fit five passengers transcended its dubious origins and caught on with the American counterculture during the 1960s and '70s. VW discontinued sales of the original model in the U.S. for two decades, but 1997's New Beetle—a canny fusion of classic form and enhanced functionality—kicked off a bona-fide craze. A sleeker, less rounded version of the car debuted nine years ago, but failed to generate big numbers as tastes changed and VW struggled to accelerate past its 2015 emissions scandal. 

Still, the Beetle holds a special place in the global consumer psyche. It's been immortalized in countless films and TV shows, and an illegally parked Bug famously appeared on the cover of the Beatles album Abbey Road. (Swedish shop Nord DDB "corrected" that miscue in a September promo touting the car maker's Park Assist technology. A few weeks back, DDB New Zealand waved goodbye by removing the vehicle from ads, leaving just familiar silhouettes. "Farewell to the world's most recognizable car," the headlines read.)

Given that vaunted legacy, Johannes Leonardo and Nexus director Fx Goby strove to make the "The Last Mile" especially memorable.

The team used rotoscoping techniques, painting over live-action scenes to produce stylized animation. "It helped capture the human emotion and gestures of the characters, and helped us harmonize everything from an aesthetic standpoint," Premutico says. The colors used throughout the film originally appeared on various Bugs. 

"Ultimately, the animation gave the story a magical quality, and fits perfectly with that poignant moment at the end—when the car transforms into an actual beetle," Premutico says. That finale is intended as a nod "to the environmental considerations that led to this moment, and also a reminder that this vehicle will always be with us," he adds. 

Given the similarity in names and ties between the band and brand, using the Beatles' "Let It Be"—performed here by the Pro Musica Youth Chorus—feels right. "The sentiment of the track strikes the perfect balance between acknowledging how hard it can be to let something go, while at the same time feeling reassured that tomorrow will be better for it," Premutico says. "There was no one better for this message to come from than the generation who will inherit what we leave behind."

Moreover, both the Beatles and Beetles will continue to resonate; neither can vanish from the cultural conversation for long. VW says an electric Beetle remains a possibility down the road. The Beatles, of course, have always played electric, and "Drive My Car" would make a jaunty soundtrack for future commercials. Or, if that's too obvious, "Hello Goodbye" would capture the fab spirit of rebirth.

Johannes Leonardo is becoming adept at picking classic tunes for VW spots. In June, the pair scored a hit with "Hello Light," a film that introduced the I.D. Buzz electric microbus and stressed sustainability, to the introspective strains of Simon & Garfunkel's "The Sound of Silence." A month later, VW celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing with "A New Mission," employing a demo version of David Bowie's "Space Oddity" to great effect.

Along with the Times Square takeover—encompassing the ABC Super Board, Disney Board and the American Eagle Board—"The Last Mile" airs today during New Year's Eve coverage on ABC and CNN. Tomorrow, it will run during ESPN's telecasts of the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl and NBC's broadcast of the NHL Winter Classic. In addition, the spot will appear through Jan. 3 on Hulu's Branded Entertainment Sector, where users can choose to view shows with a single long-form commercial at the start, instead of numerous shorter ad breaks.

Social media outreach created in partnership with influencer marketing shop Whalar features Cohen, Alivia Fields, Matt Pierce, Natalia Seth, Coury Combs and Téber sharing Beetle-related content on Instagram via the hashtag #TheLastMile.

CREDITS

CLIENT: Volkswagen
CEO: Scott Keogh 
SVP, Marketing: Saad Chehab
Senior Director, Strategy & Comms: Greg Tebbutt
Director, Brand & Marketing Comms: Jennifer Clayton
Manager, Advertising: Jeffrey Sayen
Specialist, Brand Advertising: Ladan Rafei

AGENCY: Johannes Leonardo
Chief Creative Officer: Jan Jacobs
Chief Creative Officer: Leo Premutico
Executive Creative Director: Jimm Lasser
CD / Art Director: Laura Longstaff
Art Director: Chris Luu
Copywriter: Brandon Holliday
Design Director: Charles Watlington
Junior Creative: Austin Haas
Sr. Project Manager: Loren Lee
Head of Integrated Production: Maria Perez
Group Executive Producer: Benton Roman
Executive Producer: Rebecca O'Neill
Senior Business Affairs Manager: Cindy Gines
Business Affairs Manager: Joe Bringuier
Business Lead: Ben Muldrew
Management Supervisor: Mal Gretz
Account Executive: Stephanie Loucas
Group Strategy Director: Mary Bakarich
Head of Communications Strategy: Meg Piro
Senior Comms Strategist: Erinn Morrison 

PRODUCTION COMPANY: Nexus Studios
Director: Fx Goby
Executive Creative Director: Chris O'Reilly
Executive Producer: Juliet Tierney
Senior Producer: Cindy Burnay
Line Producer: Rebecca Archer
Production Assistants: Hannah McCarthy, Beatriz Honório
Art Director: Manshen Lo
Design: Pierre Rougemont, Fanny Hagdahl Sörebo, Signe Cold
Storyboards: Louis Kynd
3D: Antonin Derory, Lea Arachtingi
Animation Supervisor: Michal Firkowski
Animation Lead: Diego Porral 
Animation: Alex Bernas, Alex Potts, Alex Dray, Emma Wakely, Flora Caulton, Guillaume Pochez, Iris Abols, Nelly Michenaud, Sim Marriott
Composite: Bethany Levy, Dylan White, Elliot Kajdan, Leo Bubani, Paul Rice

URUGUAY SERVICE COMPANY: La Productora
Executive Producer: James Lloyd
Line Producer: Diego Gregorio
Director Of Photography: Fernando Lorenzale
Assistant Director: Carlos Hoffman
Art Director: Cecilia Guerriero
Costume Stylist: Mercedes Kicelian
Editor: Pablo Riera

EDITORIAL: Nexus Studios, Thomas Heleta, Dave Slade, Joe Eckworth
MUSIC: Human Music & Sound Design
Arrangement of “Let It Be”: Justin Hori
Creative Lead: Justin Hori and Andrew Bloch
Executive Producer: James Dean Wells
Choir: Pro Musica Youth Chorus

MIX AND SOUND DESIGN: Sonic Union
Sound Designer & Mix Engineer: Steve Rosen
Producer: Pat Sullivan
Studio Director: Justine Cortale, 

MUSIC SUPERVISION: Groove Guild
Musis Supervisor: Al Risi

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David Gianatasio
David Gianatasio is senior editor at Clio Awards.

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