SXSW event recap: Volkswagen hosts Lucasfilm Executive Creative Director Doug Chiang
“Drive what rebels fly.” That was the slogan of an advertising campaign for the Volkswagen ID.4 in partnership with Lucasfilm for Andor. At SXSW, representatives from Volkswagen, Disney and Lucasfilm took the stage to talk about this unique marketing collaboration and why this partnership is so strong. The panel was moderated by Cynthia Littleton (Co-Editor-in-Chief). diversity) and showed a conversation between Gilbert Heise (Volkswagen CMO) and Ty Ervin (Walt Disney Studios Vice President of Marketing Partnerships). They were recently joined by Doug Chiang (Lucasfilm Executive Creative Director) and Kevin Lane Keller (Professor of Marketing at Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business).
Volkswagen history with war of stars Disney’s 2011 purchase of Lucasfilm was briefly preceded by a Super Bowl commercial in which a kid dressed as Darth Vader used “the Force” to power the new Passat. But what you’ll notice in comparing this ad campaign to newer ones is that it’s not in-universe characters involved with the vehicle, it’s a kid dressed like one. As Ty Ervin put it, Disney’s interest in marketing partnerships is driven by turning a movie or show’s release into an event, seeking partners who can help unlock a similar level of nostalgia while looking to the future focus. For an automotive company that has its roots in mid-century and regained prominence around the new millennium, Volkswagen was a perfect fit.
Disney’s marketing approach is a little different than it was in the days before Lucasfilm owned it. Character integrity is important to the company as it never wants to break the trust of its core fans. At the market launch of the ID. Buzz, an electric evolution of the popular VW bus, it was a no-brainer to combine the concept with Star Wars. But being a terrestrial car, it required thinking outside the box to make it make sense within the Star Wars story. The solution came from several angles. Since Obi Wan Kenobi launched its marketing campaign, the decision was made to show the vehicle as the R2-D2 and C-3PO walking off the set. Since the front of the car resembled a smiling face, the droids were immediately drawn into it. The fact that a new yet-to-be-seen droid was introduced in the campaign, L0-LA59, immediately generated engagement with core Star Wars fans.
The other aspect that made this ad a huge hit is the fact that actor Ewan McGregor is a huge Volkswagen fan and one of their brand ambassadors. His enthusiasm for the VW fleet is so great that he even converted a classic Beetle into an electric car. So while you’ll likely never see a Star Wars character drive a VW vehicle, this partnership made the framing device behind the ID. Buzz was on the set of Obi Wan Kenobi makes perfect sense, even with the actor getting behind the wheel and driving the all-electric bus away.
The marketing campaign for the ID. Buzz was in development in collaboration with Star Wars for about two years, culminating with the debut of two themed vehicles Star Wars Celebration Anaheim in 2022. Here, Lucasfilm Executive Creative Director Doug Chiang joined the conversation to talk about the collaboration that resulted in a custom version of Obi-Wan and Darth Vader’s ID. Buzz. Development of the design began with an exploration of each character’s iconic lightsaber colors, blue and red. Over time, the idea shifted to making each vehicle like a ship they would fly and giving Obi-Wan a chrome aesthetic confer, while Darth Vader’s had a more sinister Republican vibe. One of Doug’s favorite moments working with Volkswagen was the fact that they approach their vehicles as a character, which is the same principle behind every ship and droid in Star Wars. During Doug’s portion of the conversation, attendees were also able to watch a behind-the-scenes video of the making of these two vehicles with English subtitles (available online in German only).
While the panel was primarily aimed at marketers, Kevin Lan Keller’s thoughts on the success of the ID. Buzz/Star Wars campaign, there was a little mockery of the future. Volkswagen is once again collaborating with Star Wars, this time on a campaign synced to Season 3 of The Mandalorian for the ID.4. A new vehicle will be unveiled at the Star Wars Celebration in London, and Gilbert Heise teased that there could be a Star Wars edition VW vehicle on the market in the near future.
Laughing place will be Star Wars Celebration Europe, so stay tuned for more news from Star Wars and their collaboration with Volkswagen. Click here for more coverage from SXSW.