Tom Ross: Guitars and Volkswagens


Tom Ross

Tom Ross' column appears in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4205 or

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Purchase a new electric guitar and Volkswagen will throw a car in with the deal. Even better, you can plug your customized First Act guitar into the car's sound system, a feature that suggests your new VW Jetta is actually a guitar amplifier on steel belted radials.

What a marketing concept! Sell guitars to move automobiles.

The brand identity geniuses at Miami-based advertising agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky recently launched the new television ad campaign for VW in which former Guns N' Roses lead guitarist Slash stands in front of amplifier towers made of VW autos, shredding on one of the custom VW guitars.

The offer from Volkswagen actually offers a guitar with the purchase of certain car models. But I wouldn't be surprised if people purchase the collectible axes with the cars, as sporty as they look, relegated to an afterthought.

The guitars are customized with the automaker's logo, custom-color pick guards that match the paint job on the cars and guitar straps made of seat belts. They even have the car's ID number engraved in them, and the guitar's tone and volume controls replicate the knobs and blue lights of the dashboard. How cool is that? Before we know it, teenagers will be driving their V-Dubs to gigs in the parking lots of convenience stores.

The creatives at CP + B really get it. In American society, there are few more powerful symbols of male virility than an electric guitar. I should know.

I received my first electric guitar this year as a special gift. It's not a First Act guitar like the ones that come with a Jetta, GTI, new Beetle or a Rabbit. Instead, it's the Fender Stratocaster with a two-toned sunburst finish and a maple neck - the one I've lusted after since I was a teenager. Fender guitars inspire loyalty among owners equivalent to the bond motorcyclists have with Harley Davidsons.

The Strat is not a material possession to me - it's a sacred object. I kneel before the guitar case in the evenings and remove it with two hands before strapping it on and pretending I'm one of the great bluesmen such as Albert King or T-Bone Walker.

My first guitar was an acoustic Harmony. It was a pretty decent starter guitar at $60 in about 1967. I had a guitar teacher who patiently taught me the rudimentary finger picking that might have led to me become the next Elizabeth Cotton or maybe even Mississippi John Hurt.

The only problem was that I wasn't buying Ledbelly and Pete Seeger records with my allowance. I was buying 45 r.p.m. singles (those are phonograph records for my younger readers) by the Beatles, The McCoys (remember "Hang on Sloopy"?), Paul Revere and the Raiders (Kicks just keep gettin' harder to find), the Dave Clark Five and the Animals.

Today, I wish I could play acoustic guitar like John Hurt or Doc Watson. Who knows? Had I purchased an electric guitar in 1967, I might have become a teen sensation. OK, maybe not.

I still have the Harmony, but in 1970 I used money I made at a job scooping ice cream cones to buy a handmade Gibson acoustic.

It offered a smoother action and richer sound from its fine-grained spruce top.

The Gibson is worth more now than the $220 I paid for it 35 years ago. But it's not an investment. The Gibson is one of my best friends - truly a sentient being, and I've tried to be sensitive to its feelings since the flashier Stratocaster has moved in with us.

I'm predicting that VW will sell a fair number of guitars (and cars) with its new campaign. Watch for John Mayer and Christopher Guest, who played Nigel in the rock mockumentary "This is Spinal Tap," to appear in subsequent TV spots.

The campaign is already creating so much buzz that if you look hard enough, you can find blogs where amateur guitarists are trying to decipher the riff Slash plays on the first commercial. Their goal is to transpose it into a form of music notation for guitar players called "tablature" so that everyone can learn to play it.

When an advertising campaign drives that kind of unsolicited activity in cyberspace, you know it's successful.

If the folks at CP + B are as perceptive as I think they are, they'll soon recognize that if there's an iconographic image more engaging than a dude with an electric guitar, it's a woman with an electric guitar.

That should translate into someone like Cheryl Crow or Bonnie Raitt appearing in a future Volkswagen commercial.

As for myself, I'm headed home to practice Clapton's classic lick from "Layla" on my Strat.


AHD 10 years, 5 months ago

I would have to agree with you on the creativity of this campaign. I think its great! Not to mention I love John Mayer and Slash in the commercials to promote the deal. Its a cool concept, I bet VW does really well with this. Good Luck practicing Layla.


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