The Brilliance of the Force of Good

Normally, when I’m at the gym, I read auto magazines, but even I have to occasionally indulge my lust for clothes, shoes, and makeup. So, one afternoon while I was flipping through a fashion magazine, I came across one of those ads: the stiffer, glossy paper that tends to hold the pages open on the treadmill’s magazine shelf and annoy me.

What was this? I thought. I tried to flip past, but the colors caught my eye. I realized that the ad, entitled Force of Good, contained trading cards of New Beetle drivers. Was I supposed to collect and barter these snapshots like kids in a schoolyard? Not wanting to miss out on anything, I glanced around, creased the perforation in the page, and gently tugged the cards loose from the magazine’s pages, hoping the sweaty runners on the neighboring treadmills wouldn’t notice.

The eight cards featured a picture on one side and brief bios on the other, complete with a description of the contents of each driver’s bud vase. I felt a twinge of jealousy reading about Tiphany, a perky greeting card designer from Rhode Island. Richard from Massachusetts was actually pictured with his ‘56 Beetle rather than his ‘03, reminding me of the Mercedes commercials composed of photographs of Benz drivers alongside their cars. It was advertising I believed VW should have done first, and was pleased to see that it was finally here, but with a characteristic twist.

Problem was, I wanted to be part of it, too. I didn’t see any reason other than the non-Beetle ownership that I wouldn’t blend in seamlessly with the rest of the group. I mean, who hasn’t thought of themselves in those terms at some point? “Cherise: ’91 GTI 8v. Bud vase: Purple pansy. Super powers: Finding four-leaf clovers with amazing speed and accuracy.”

Okay, so maybe that’s just me.

My interest piqued when I spotted Patrick, a computer consultant with an ’03 New Beetle Convertible, from Saint Albans, Vermont, just 45 minutes up the Interstate. My club, DubsNorth, likes to believe we’ve reined in most of the VW drivers in the Green Mountain State, but clearly, this Patrick had eluded us. I decided it was my personal mission to get in touch with him–after all, who doesn’t want to see a trading card come to life? Besides, I was still a little doubtful of this campaign’s authenticity. I needed to verify these peoples’ existence, at the very least.

A quick Internet search directed me to Patrick’s personal webpage, which featured his contact information and a link to the Force of Good page, confirming that I was on the right track. The “Force of Good” site was a disappointment to say the least; the “new and improved Beetle People page” featured the same people and same information as the ad. What good are trading cards if everyone gets the same ones? Regardless, Patrick demonstrated his sincere good nature by responding quickly and cordially to my nosy email.

As it turns out, not only is 42-year-old Patrick an actual person, he’s driven VWs for the last 26 years. Among other gems, he’s owned an ’86 Quantum wagon, an ’84 Rabbit GTI (purchased new, no less) and a ’75 Bus.

Candidates were recruited, Patrick told me, through an email sent from VW to New Beetle owners. Those interested simply responded to a questionnaire seeking essentially the same information featured on the trading cards. This was kind of a disappointment; I had been envisioning VW talent scouts on a quest to find the perfect Beetle driver, jumping out of the shadows to offer fame and fortune to a lucky few. For a computer consultant, though, the email solicitation method was the way to go.

“I didn’t really [want to be in the campaign],” Patrick said. “I was just bored that afternoon and sent in the email as a goof.”

The photo shoot took place at the New England Aquarium in Boston. Although Patrick didn’t get to meet any of the other seven (“The ad agency went around to each person to do the photo shoot,” he explained) there were other perks involved.

“I received $500 and my wife and I got to go to spend the night at a nice hotel in downtown Boston,” said Patrick. “I also got to keep some of the clothes from the shoot. The funny thing is that after all the photos and clothes changes, the photo they used was one of the test shots with me in my own clothes.”

How’s that for genuine?

It’s hard to tell what kind of impact this campaign will make, overall; according to the website, the magazine ad ran in only a select few magazines. Exposure didn’t appear to be a high priority. I was surprised that Patrick said no one has recognized him, although “several people have told my wife or mother-in-law that they saw me in the ad.” Ultimately, however, Force of Good exemplifies the quintessential Volkswagen message that people are brought together by the cars, an element that has been lost from recent VW marketing schemes. After a few years of disappointing advertising from VW, Force of Good has gotten it right.