The Beetle Shark Cage

November 14, 2013

Brand: Volkswagen
Lead Agency: MediaCom
Award Level: Grand Prix
Year: 2013
Categories: Local-multi (local execution of a multinational campaign)
Campaign Summary

Volkswagen had redesigned its Beetle to attract a male demographic, but it also needed to shift perceptions of the car as “girly.” It tapped into the popularity of Discovery Channel’s Shark Week by creating an operational shark observation cage with the frame of a Beetle. Video content, second-screen applications, and brand messaging across all Shark Week digital touch points supported the Beetle shark cage. The campaign generated immediate impact, including a 20 percent increase in male Beetle buyers.

Marketing Situation

The Volkswagen Beetle had evolved into a car preferred by women. According to purchase data and conversation, the Beetle’s design was perceived as “girly.” This represented a problem for Volkswagen, because it couldn’t sell a “girl’s car” to guys. If Volkswagen wanted to achieve strong brand growth, it needed to attract a male audience to the Beetle.

Volkswagen “manned up” the car with a redesign that made the new Beetle faster, stronger, and sleeker. The new model might have had the right style for male buyers, but the perception about the brand hadn’t changed. Volkswagen needed to produce content that would give the Beetle a masculine edge while remaining true to the brand’s identity.


Carmakers traditionally target a male audience through product placement in explosion-filled Hollywood blockbusters. But that approach felt too heavy for the Beetle and its values of fun and irreverence.

Research showed Volkswagen that action and adventure were male passion points that the brand could tap into. So Volkswagen decided to make the Beetle seem like a cool friend: the guy who does cool things that others only dream about. And guys like sharks.

The Discovery Channel’s Shark Week was the perfect platform. Shark Week is a full-blown cultural event where sharks and pop culture collide. A spectacle of teeth, blood, and guts, it delivers male viewers in large numbers. So for the 25th anniversary of Shark Week, Volkswagen brought Beetle to the beach.

Key Tactics

Volkswagen engineers partnered with Discovery and marine biologists to turn a Beetle into a fully-operational shark observation vehicle. The submersible vehicle was equipped with a full air system and turbo packs for underwater driving, while the frame design was a perfect replica of the iconic car. The side-view mirrors even contained the warning “Sharks in mirror are closer than they appear.”

Volkswagen produced a series of mini-episodes that chronicled the Beetle shark observation cage’s development process, from design to construction to shark-filled water voyage. Volkswagen content was seamlessly integrated by Discovery during Shark Week. The episodes aired both on television and online, with viewers able to see additional content on a tablet co-viewing app.

Teaser content was used across Volkswagen’s social properties to draw interest, and Volkswagen had a full share of voice on the Shark Week landing page. The Discovery Channel and Shark Week digital experience was blanketed with Volkswagen’s brand messaging across all touch points. Discovery Channel and Volkswagen also collaborated on promotional assets that included tagged tune-ins, out-of-home executions, and print ads designed to drive viewership and strengthen the connection between the brands.

Volkswagen showcased the Beetle shark cage at a Volkswagen dealer event and a Shark Week premiere party to build additional buzz. The observation cage became a hotly anticipated pop culture event in itself, with coverage in the New York Times and Advertising Age.

Campaign Success

Volkswagen saw immediate impact from the campaign:

  • Beetle saw the highest sales month of the year, topping 3,000 units in August 2012.
  • The percentage of male buyers for Beetle jumped to 40 percent, representing a lift of 20 percent.
  • Brand recall, likeability, and brand opinion scoresexceeded competitive benchmarks.
  • The Beetle Shark Cage series had 29 million views.
  • More than 1.8 million Facebook posts about the Beetle Shark Cage were generated.
  • The campaign received 129 million PR impressions.
  • The campaign was recognized across the industry.
How does this campaign exemplify a best practice or serve as a template for other markets worldwide?

Volkswagen needed to appeal to a male audience interested in the blood and guts of Shark Week while staying true to the Beetle’s spirit. The Beetle would have been out of place in a racing game or sports car environment. By turning the Beetle into a shark observation cage, Volkswagen went beyond branded content with an innovative idea that was authentic to the brand and audience. The campaign served as an example of extending a brand beyond traditional channels like television.

Beetle was able to return to its Shark Week campaign in 2013 with a fast-moving, convertible shark cage. As part of an amplified digital and social presence for 2013, viewers would be able to take the cage on a sub-aquatic road trip via a 360-degree underwater view streaming on the Shark Week website.


“The Beetle Shark Cage.” 2013 Internationalist Digital Solutions Grand Prix Winner – Local-Multi. Country: U.S. Brand: Volkswagen. Lead Agency: MediaCom.

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