Volkswagen Up!
Volkswagen Up!

In this advert for the Up!—Volkswagen’s city car—a metallic yellow Up! bathes in sunshine, parked in an attractive cobbled street, outside Cafe Rivas (which we assume is somewhere in continental Europe).

In this idealised image six people are visible. We might wonder which of them owns the vehicle. Then we realise that it’s our car—the viewer owns it. The scenario reads as if we’ve just parked it and we’re walking away; turning around to lock the doors with the key fob, and in the process, we can’t help but admire it. The image speaks about the car, and the car’s owner—it speaks about us. First of all, like us it’s perfectly at home in this environment, which reflects its chic, urban sophistication—but it has its ‘feet on the ground’.

The owner knows where to go for a great coffee, and a pastry to go with it. He or she is cool, contemporary, slightly edgy (see the graffiti on the wall along from the cafe), but sensible. The location has character, but it’s in no way run down. We guess that it’s been gentrified at some point, possibly an old district of the city that’s been redeveloped and is now a sought-after place to own a flat —sorry, I meant ‘apartment’. While the location is likely to be France, it could be any European city. The Cafe Rivas looks like it serves meals, coffee, and drinks. A person could spend their entire day in it, reading Le Monde and The New Yorker, getting a breakfast croissant, a baguette brunch, and evening cocktail. But the owner of an Up! isn’t the kind of person who spends their day and night in a cafe/bar—they’re hard working and too busy getting on with their life. Although the owner likes to think that they are fashionable, they are also cautious. They don’t make rash decisions, and they know that at heart they are quite a traditional person, although not ‘old fashioned’. The owner probably works in the media industry, maybe even for the agency that developed this advert for Volkswagen.

The people around the car reaffirm its character, and by association, the owner: the person about to exit the cafe, the woman in the bright yellow dress, the couple meeting in the cafe, the woman seated outside the cafe with her coffee and pastry, and the man in the blue jacket who is about to enter the building next to the cafe. The man meeting the woman inside the cafe wears a flamboyant, flowery shirt. Everyone looks like a model, because they are one.

Why is the man going into the building? He’s carrying something under his left arm, a package: a gift, or office documents? Judging by the relatively short shadows this could be late morning or early afternoon. Perhaps he’s going home for lunch, or visiting a lover? Nothing is explicit. The woman in yellow might know him? It could even be her apartment that he’s visiting. These people all have ‘walk-on parts’, they are scenery, because none of them are the central character in this story. The car is the hero, and, once again, by association, us—the owner. The Up! is a fun, city car, that looks good, and makes a sensible value purchase. The advertising copy claims that it’s an ‘extension of your style’. It comes with all the things that matter: ‘over a thousand potential colour combinations’, and ‘advanced connectivity’, ‘your car is an extension of your smartphone, with music, satnav, and search options at your fingertips’—‘It fits seamlessly with your lifestyle’.

We are smart enough to know that there are cheaper options out there, but quality is everything—and buying anything else would be like having coffee in the wrong neighbourhood.