Celebrating the Golf With VW’s Greatest TV Commercials

The eighth generation of Golf is set to be unveiled in Europe on Thursday and although we’re excited to see what the next generation of Golf has to offer, we’d also like to take this opportunity to look back at the seven generations of Golf that have blessed us with practical, sensible, driving fun until now.

Being frequent visitors to Volkswagen’s media site, we saw that they were doing the same! With pictures and videos of each generation, we were excited to see what they had.

Hm. 

Okay, so maybe something more exciting is required to celebrate this people’s champ. Fortunately, Volkswagen pays some of the best advertisers around to make the argument that you wouldn’t think they’d really have to make: that the Golf is great.

So, to celebrate the history of the Golf, we’re taking a look back at some of the best ads selling the Golf generation by generation, with a focus on European ads, since we won’t be getting the Mk8 for a few months still.

Mk1

The Golf may seem import

ant to Volkswagen now, but in 1974, when the first one launched, it was absolutely crucial that it be a success. Coming into a world weighed down with high oil prices and general ennui, the ads for the car seem to be deliberately fighting the spirit of the time, focusing on light-hearted fun.

Who needs plentiful oil when we’ve got oompah pah bands? In America, meanwhile, brash boastfulness was the name of the game (I know we said we’d be focusing on European, ads, but bear with us). Why talk about all the big cars that don’t make sense when you can jump a Rabbit over a bunch of its competition and call it the best?

And that combination of engineering for fun would follow the Mk1 throughout its life, even when most of the world had moved on. In South Africa, the Citi Golf would combine those two ideas in an ad that literally said, sober German engineers are designing so you can have fun:

Mk2

It’s a theme that would follow the Golf throughout its life, with varying intensity. For the second generation, the fun side of the equation shelved a bit for the reliable side. Ads, like this British one, emphasized how strong the new Golf was with just a passing mention of “better road holding.”

In Japan, too, the ads were about rugged construction and over-engineering.

Even in America, the ads were focused on the construction of the cars. Almost like cars in the ’70s were less than reliable… I wonder which three large companies could be responsible for that?

Mk3

By the third generation saving money was less of a concern. Suddenly, ads weren’t about making due, they were about how you could also show off in a Golf. Shades of premium affordable, another VW standby, were already creeping in with this UK ad for the Golf.

Anyone familiar with Harry Enfield will no doubt also notice shades of “loadsamoney” in this ad. I wonder what was going on with the economy? But this ad, and others, also show that the legend of the Golf had cemented by this point. All of VW’s boastfulness and its superlative engineering convinced people that the Golf wasn’t just an economy car, it was something to be proud of. Volkswagen didn’t have to convince people, people were already writing about the Golf, as in this Spanish ad.

Mk4

By the fourth generation, Volkswagen was confident enough in the Golf that they just had to convince you that it was still a Golf. This pair of ads set on the rally stage are doing a lot of work (rallying implies that the car is tough, fast, and fun, while the speed with which it can take on the competition suggests it’s the best, all themes that we saw in the Mk1), but the sting at the end of the ad really shows off how comfortable VW had become at this point. “Isn’t that what you’d expect from Volkswagen?”

Mk5

And the confidence only grew from there. For the fifth generation, VW’s could be elemental, almost abstract. This ad for the R32 is so short it’s almost parodic, but the speed and focus works because of the subject matter.

Meanwhile, one of the best-remembered Golf ads barely features the car at all. The OG deepfake, Singing in the Rain doesn’t say anything explicit about the Golf GTI, apart from perhaps “Gene Kelly’s” impressed reaction to the car. It does trade on one theme that will become more important in the sixth generation. The interplay between new and old suggests that VW was already trying to remind buyers about the Golf’s history. The ad suggests that the latest GTI is a remix of the older versions that came before, mixing the fun of the original with the best of the present.

Mk6

This Mk6 ad from the UK, for instance, really leans in on the looking back/looking forward dichotomy. Although there have been other ads that referenced the tradition of the Golf, few so explicitly use the image of the first generation to sell the latest generation.

Most of the ads from other generations that reference older Golfs are more like these ads, which suggest that the new model can only be compared to previous models.

Mk7

Finally, we arrive at the current generation (for now) of the Golf. Like the Mk2, the Mk7 isn’t a giant leap stylistically from the generation that precedes it. Perhaps as a result, its ads have also tended to focus on the technical advancements that make it a smart choice. Take, for example, this haut schmalz ad that shows off its advanced safety.

Although this time it’s a sad bunny, not an angry elephant, the ad cashes in on cute animals. It’s a technique that they would use again, this time to show off the Golf’s performance.

It’s funny that the same basic ad (a Golf’s ability to stop will make an animal have strong emotions) can be used to reach two very different conclusions (safety and performance). Let’s not forget, though, that we’re in a period of increasing energy scarcity again. So that old Golf standby of advertising economy as fun is back with the (ahem) GTD.

A bit of life imitating art, there. Regardless, these ads all show that the Golf has always leaned on the same three tenets of advertising to sell itself: it’s fun, it’s well-engineered, and it’s the best. It seems that the third generation will lean more on technological sophistication than engineering prowess, but that should also lead to more power than ever in the sporty models, and maybe even an advantage in its class.

Just how the Mk8’s advertisers choose to make it all entertaining, we can’t wait to see. We just hope they’ll continue to make the ads funny.