Going for tears
While that spot went for laughs, the new ads -- which coincide with the Atlas's arrival at dealerships -- go for tears.
The lead spot tells the story of an Irish-American widow played by Gallagher who fulfills the dying wish of her husband by taking the family, including grandkids, on a cross-country journey. They travel in the Atlas in changing weather and terrain from New York City through St. Louis, Arkansas, west Texas, Colorado, Arizona and Utah, ending in northern California, where the family spreads the grandmother's husband's ashes into the Pacific. The soundtrack is Simon & Garfunkel's "America."
"Since this is a vehicle that is designed for American tastes, we wanted to show it through the lens of America and really show America coast-to-coast," said Vinay Shahani, vice president of U.S. marketing for the VW brand. "Human stories told simply is our tonality."
Other shorter ads plug Atlas features by showing snippets of the family's journey, like one spot that shows them staring through the vehicle's panoramic sunroof at a flock of birds flying above a farm field. The ads use different versions of "America," including instrumentals.
A total of eight ads will get airplay on shows such as NBC's "The Voice" and during the NHL and NBA Playoffs. VW has also made a significant cinema buy for a 90-second version of the ad (at top). Shahani declined to reveal total spending behind the campaign other than to characterize it as "sizable."
The Atlas, built at VW's Chattanooga plant, is the product of a new approach in which Volkswagen of America has gained more autonomy from VW's German headquarters. The name "Atlas" stands apart from foreign-sounding monikers of other VW vehicles, like the Tiguan compact crossover.
The 2018 Tiguan, which goes on sale later this year, has been updated to be made longer as part of VW's approach to better appeal to U.S. consumers.
VW is seeking to lure owners of other brands to the Atlas and Tiguan by offering a six-year/72,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty that is lengthier than most warranties in the industry.
"We won't be able to effectively achieve the scale that we need to achieve simply by converting existing VW owners. We have to appeal to a broader audience," Shahani said.
He also acknowledged that the warranty is partly a move to restore consumer confidence in the brand in the wake of the emissions scandal that erupted in late 2015 when it was revealed that the automaker had used so-called "defeat device" software to evade exhaust emissions testing.
VW this year has shown signs of a comeback. Vehicle unit sales for the VW brand rose 10 percent in the first three months of the year, according to data compiled by Automotive News.