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Fahrvergnügen (German pronunciation: [ˈfaːɐ̯fɛɐ̯ˌɡnyːɡn̩]) ( listen (help·info)) was an advertising slogan used by the German automobile manufacturer Volkswagen in a 1990 U.S. ad campaign that included a stick figure driving a Volkswagen car.
"Fahrvergnügen" means "driving enjoyment" in English (from fahren, "to drive," and vergnügen, "enjoyment"). The term itself is not standard German but a neologism (compound noun) created especially for this advertising campaign. One of the tag lines incorporating the word was: "Fahrvergnügen: It's what makes a car a Volkswagen".
Making of the campaign
In an effort to distinguish its line of vehicles from those of its rivals, Volkswagen of America Inc. and its ad agency, DDB Needham/New York, sought to create an ad campaign that emphasized the unique qualities of the Volkswagen driving experience. The resulting 1990 "Fahrvergnügen" campaign, which was radically different from other car advertising at the time, was designed to pique American consumers' curiosity about this odd German word and the Volkswagen brand it touted. "Fahrvergnügen," which translates as "driving enjoyment," strove to focus on the qualities of the Volkswagen product, not on its price.The first commercials of the "Fahrvergnügen" print, radio, and television campaign were an artful combination of computer graphics, animation, and film footage intended to express the underlying concept of the word. In "Fahrfel Introduction," which debuted in early February 1990, the Fahrfel character—a stick figure drawn as if sitting in a driver's seat—made its inaugural appearance. The figure emerged from the Volkswagen logo and then morphed into a stretch of road, signifying, as Back Stage explained, "how [the Volkswagen] driver and car literally mesh with part of the highway." Shots of the Volkswagen car were interspersed with a black-and-white, computer-generated landscape. The commercial's voice-over declared that Volkswagen provided a level of responsiveness unlike any other vehicle, "as if it were simply an extension of you." At the time of the "Fahrvergnügen" launch, Volkswagen also took out ads in major newspapers across the country. These print pieces were entitled "Fahrvergnügen Explained," and defined the concept as that which "makes a car a Volkswagen; the only way to experience Fahrvergnügen is to experience it. And the only way to experience it is to drive a Volkswagen."The "Fahrvergnügen" inception coincided with Volkswagen's introduction of two new cars—the Passat, a mid-sized sedan, and the Corrado, a sports car. At the same time, however, the company offered other models, including the Jetta, Golf, Fox, and Cabriolet. Although the early "Fahrvergnügen" commercials broadcast the arrival of the Passat, the campaign had the broader goal of positioning all Volkswagen vehicles as distinct, and distinctly German, cars. Indeed, "Fahrvergnügen" was "a deliberate attempt … to set [Volkswagen's] cars apart from Japanese and American products," according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. In 1991 Volkswagen continued this central theme of the "Fahrvergnügen" campaign with spots that continued to portray the stick figure character, now dubbed "Otto Bahn." Commercials in 1992 retained the "Fahrvergnügen" tag line, but the tongue-twisting word was no longer the focus, appearing instead as a slogan in the closing seconds of the spots."Fahrvergnügen" initially appeared to be a boon to the struggling car maker's fortunes. Sales rose in 1990 after years of decline. Moreover, the campaign's unusual tag line helped draw attention to Volkswagen, and the company saw advertising recall rise substantially after "Fahrvergnügen." But the recession of the early 1990s compounded the fierce competition Volkswagen faced in the car industry, as the entire automobile market contracted. After two years of sinking sales in 1991 and 1992, the company switched ad agencies and launched a new campaign in 1993 entitled "The Most Loved Cars in the World."
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- The Volkswagen "Fahrvergnügen Explained" print ad appeared in The Wall Street Journal on 2 February 1990.
- Rebecca Stanfel, Encyclopedia of Major Marketing Campaigns, Volume 1, 2000, pp. 1884-1897