The Super Bowl is still a few days away, but the commercials can't wait for the kickoff. Two spots from Volkswagen are already on the Web. Are they any good? Well, that depends. What are your thoughts on the Partridge Family?
VW made a big splash with its mini-Darth Vader Super Bowl spot in 2011. This year, the car company is betting on positive vibes by hiring reggae legend Jimmy Cliff to cover "C'mon, Get Happy." Viewers of a certain age will recognize it as the opening theme song from "The Partridge Family." The '70s sitcom about a family band made David Cassidy and Danny Bonaduce superstars and sold millions of hit singles like "I Think I Love You" and "Doesn't Somebody Want to Be Wanted."
"C'mon, Get Happy" actually wasn't the show's original theme song. When "The Partridge Family" first went on the air, the similar-sounding "When We're Singing" played over the show's opening credits.
Here's the show's original theme ...
And the one that replaced it ...
But that was then. What has VW done with the tune for a modern-day audience? In one ad that uses the song in the background, an office worker named Dave (who hails from Minnesota) speaks with a Caribbean accent and tries to brighten the moods of his glum co-workers. Only when Dave takes a few office drones for a ride in his swanky VW Beetle do their moods improve. In other words, they get happy.
In another spot, Cliff sings the "C'mon, Get Happy" theme on camera, and the comically angry stars of different viral videos join him in harmony. It reminded us a bit of the famous "Buy the World a Coke" ad but with corporate sarcasm.
We spoke with Corey Proffitt from VW's Product Communications team about the ads. Cliff, Proffitt explained, recorded the "easy-to-sing-along" cover specifically for Volkswagen.
Proffitt says the feedback has been "overwhelmingly positive," but not everybody is a fan. The Wall Street Journal published a blog questioning whether the characterization in the new ads will be the equivalent of Jar Jar Binks when compared with the Darth Vader ad from two years ago (that’s not a compliment).
"Cliff is great," the Journal writes, "but it’s off-putting to see the Island spirit used as a punch line. The Jamaican aesthetic ... is founded on positive vibration, not mindless happiness."
New York Times columnist Charles Blow spoke with CNN's Soledad O'Brian about the "Dave" ad. While O'Brian liked it, Blow found it offensive, saying the ad was like "blackface with voices."
"We were very cognizant of the accuracy of the Caribbean accent during our planning and creative sessions," Proffitt said. "The accent is not intended to evoke a particular group of people but rather a positive attitude of someone who is always happy in life. Lots of people can relate to the drudgery of heading into work on a Monday."
Early comments on YouTube indicate that viewers get the humor. Regarding the Cliff commercial, anonVamous wrote: "May the good times roll. It's time we remembered how to play nice with each other. After all. We are all here together, why not enjoy the company for friends and have a good time? Peace!" FascinationStreak wrote this about the Dave spot: "I would love it if our country was known as the fun, laid back one who talks awesome." gabeebingspiderman added this: "hilarious this the best VW ad so far."