Volkswagen Super Bowl ad is an anthem to Gen X

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Now that I live on a farm, which, by the way, has been inescapable for three days because of snow, I keep up with the world by watching trending topics on Twitter.

Right now, a trending topic is “Volkswagen commercial” which is about their new Super Bowl commercial. Volkswagen has conveniently released the commercial early so we don't have to spend this Sunday watching men giving each other concussions to see it.

Here's the commercial:

This makes me happy to be part of Generation X. First of all, this is the small window of time when Generation X will have the largest buying power in the consumer market. We are at our highest earning power, which, admittedly, is not impressive, but earnings are all relative, and people are discriminating against the Baby Boomers because of their age, so it's our heyday.

It's also our heyday because Gen X values are front and center. And we're about family. We don't earn as much as Baby Boomers did because we work such fewer hours. We've downsized our careers to take care of our kids. We've taken back the dignity of working part-time. We've deconstructed stay-at-home parenting as a respectful career alternative.

So I love this commercial because it captures the shared experience of Generation X. We like being home to make our kids peanut butter and jelly. You could not sell Baby Boomers with this. They think it's lame to sit in a kitchen waiting for your kid to be hungry. We like having a male breadwinner and we're not afraid to say it.

And we are surrounded by little boys in love with Star Wars.

When we look back, we will see that Gen X redefined family and work. We are the first generation that gave women a choice to do anything they want. So we're the generation that reveals that what women really want is to be with their kids. Maybe not all the time. But more than men. That's for sure.

The woman in the kitchen is not glamorous. She's efficient, self-confident, and she knows what her child needs. She looks like she was vice-president-of-something before she had kids. And she appears to have managed to keep a marriage together, which is something Generation X works harder at than their parents did. (The divorce rate for college-educated white women is now less than 2%.)

The moment at the end of the commercial is so intimate. The father knows his son so well that he can participate in the Darth Vader game that he hasn't even been home to see unfolding. And as a husband he can talk to his wife with a raise of an eyebrow.

The family has a car that is not too expensive, but it does the job. That's what I want from my life: Intimate, fun, and not too expensive. God bless Volkswagen.

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    • Gerri
      Gerri says:

      I agree Sara. I think as Gen X we also have raised our children with a lean towards gender neutrality not seen in previous generations. Also…there was no hint that there had been a boy in the household, including the lack of identifiable features in the child visible in the commercial, however there was an overtly clear indication of a female child.

      • Pen
        Pen says:

        I was also thinking it was neat that they left the child genderless, and thought it was “interesting” how many people assumed/decided it was a boy.

        But then I read Volkswagen’s own description of the ad on their youtube channel.

        The spot features a pint-sized Darth Vader who uses the Force when he discovers the all-new 2012 Passat in the driveway. It leverages humor and the unforgettable Star Wars – „¢ score to create an emotional commercial.

        So this shows that VW means it to be a boy. The whole “perfect family” aspect of it already lost me, and I feel like it’s too bad they missed a chance to just make it “a happy kid.”

        But then I’m not about to buy a Passat anyway, so I’m not who they’re reaching for.

      • JT
        JT says:

        Now the news is out and the person under the mask is indeed a boy.

        It’s amazing for gen-x to think they invented the genderless child.

    • Harriet May
      Harriet May says:

      I have to say, I’m my friend’s favorite babysitter because I bring my own lightsaber over to their houses to play Star Wars with their kids. (It’s a purple Mace Windu lightsaber, if you must know.)

    • Emily Van Metre
      Emily Van Metre says:

      I think the ad leaves it vague intentionally, which lets more people identify with it and think “that’s just like my kid.” Since P has 2 sons, she naturally would be more inclined to picture one of her boys. Someone with a daughter might picture the kid as a girl.

  1. Beth
    Beth says:

    There’s also the part where Gen X *is* the Star Wars generation, and they’re now passing this on to their kids. That’s how universal the meme is: Volkswagen can make a commercial around it.

  2. SoCalGirl
    SoCalGirl says:

    Interesting – I thought it was a boy – just because my boy LOVES the StarWars – not so much with the girl who LOVES Scooby Doo – LOL – who knew that would come back around?! I LOVE VW, TOO!!

  3. jim
    jim says:

    Thanks for keeping reminding me that this is our moment in the sun. But I like the commercial entirely because of the kid’s double take when the car’s lights flash.

  4. Shirley
    Shirley says:

    My friend shared this video with me yesterday and I was drawn to it. I shared it with my kids who then asked me to play it for them several times. They loved it and laughed for about an hour.
    Thanks Penelope for reminding me how I am part of a generation (not just the leftovers of the baby boom.

  5. Lena
    Lena says:

    I wasn’t sure how I felt about the commercial until I saw the last scene. What a cute parent/kid moment. The things we do to see our kids get excited. Adorable.

  6. Graeme
    Graeme says:

    What a lovely analysis of this advert. If you want the Boomer version, check this out:

    “This is my life and I’m passing on the memories”. It’s the same message as this VW ad, but for the Boomers. A nice contrast, I think… I might even think the kid in the memories advert is the father in the vader one.

    Thanks again for your analysis.

    If you don’t mind, I’d like to cross post it at

  7. James
    James says:

    Great short movie — otherwise known as a commercial spot. Funny — Boomers insist they discovered sex — and Xers are convinced they invented the nuclear family…

  8. Deena
    Deena says:

    I’m in LOVE with this commercial. Penelope you nailed it. This is what life is all about! Enjoying the moments!

  9. Somer
    Somer says:

    Penelope, Love it. Well done! It makes me happy to own a Vdub. And please tell me you’ve sent this to them. You need a Vdub tractor on that farm. Just sayin’…;)

  10. VelDean
    VelDean says:

    @James — Thanks for your comment re who discovered sex and who invented nuclear families. LOL — We see the world through the lens we choose to put on. From one Boomer to another….

  11. Irving Podolsky
    Irving Podolsky says:

    Loved the commercial! Makes me want to throw on a helmet, any helmet, and start cars.


    PS: I wish I could seriously comment on this post, but I’m a free-lance, married but kidless boomer that never fit in anywhere.

  12. Doug Jordan
    Doug Jordan says:

    Nothing against the VW commercial but once again you have it wrong about Gen-X. This generation is not pro-family any more than the BB gen or the postwar gen were. They haven’t placed their families ahead of jobs, it’s the default position. And it’s not their fault. It is a huge tragedy since the 1990s ‘jobless recovery’ and since, that Gen-Xers, and now Gen-Yers, find the job market an empty shell of the vigourous place it was in the 50s, 60s and 70s. We off-shored ourselves to the point that mostly the only jobs to be had are in the service sector and these are mostly part-time and shift work. Guess what happens? Gen-Xers retreat to the family because they have the time and to preserve their dignity. It’s an admirable default but I don’t think it is a choice. To our great loss a a western society.

    • jen
      jen says:

      I completely disagree with you. There has been so much written about Generation X shrugging the corner office for more work-life balance. Gen X men are even demanding this. These stories are not just anecdotal; they are born out of surveys and stats.

      • David Propper
        David Propper says:

        Hello? Quality of life. Work/life balance?- Demanding it? Here’s a survey for you. The other side of the planet wants their time in the sun. They are out-working us and they are dirt poor. They have nowhere to go but up. We have nowhere to go but down. Fasten your seat belts, BB, X,Y and Z. What gives us the audacity to think the planet belongs to us? Re-watch “Slum Dog Millionaire.” So far we have had the best and the most of anyone in the world at anytime in the history of the world and we still want more. Every generation of Americans since WWI has been spoiled rotten, myself included.

  13. Working
    Working says:

    Smart move – You let somebody else take the heat by trashing mommy bloggers (last post), and now you are pandering the same segment with this lame-o commercial.

    And really, who is a Gen X? You said Obama is a Gen X, yet he was born in 1961-old enough to be a BB.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      You’re right. They should pay me. Can you contact them about that?

      But Dave, reality check: Companies spend a lot of money to do stuff that is so fun and touching and interesting that people talk about it just because sharing nice things feels nice. Most people don’t need to be paid to talk about stuff they love.


  14. Bridget Forney
    Bridget Forney says:

    You know, I think the last post was a bit risky. And you, and the author, likely took some heat for it. I can see from the comments that some people are going to be holding a grudge for a while. Personally, I tried to ignore the accuracy of your politically correct compass on this one and took the post for what it was – a light-hearted, fun dissection of a superbowl ad. It definitely made me smile and chuckle at the end, and I agreed with you on many points. What more could someone want in a blog post?
    Keep up the good work.
    Bridget Forney

  15. Casey
    Casey says:

    As the Star-Wars-loving mother of a nine-year-old son who has loved Star Wars since he was two, I just love this commercial. When I’m driving down the street and someone comes out of a driveway or to a cross street too quickly, looking like they might pull out in front of me, I put my hand up and use the Force to stop them. My kids think it really works. Ok, I do too.

    Thanks for making me proud of being a Gen X’er. We’ve definitely taught our parents a thing or two about how to be great parents.

  16. CrankyGeek
    CrankyGeek says:

    Too funny! I told my wife last night we should really seriously consider the Tiguan, and were looking at colors.
    Haven’t seen the commercial, but love the post.

  17. Steve Cook
    Steve Cook says:

    P,thanks for recognizing that Boomers are being discriminated against. It’s a national tragedy, right up there with the dumbing down of our educational system. I know your forte is is communicating with GEN X and GEN y’ers, but they’re the next boomers, so it’s good that they at least get a look at this once in a while. We’re all gonna be old some day.
    Cruised Europe and North Africa in the 70’s in a ’58 VW van, up to sevven travelers at times, depending on who we picked up along the way. VW’s are iconic, especially vans. They will live on forever in the hearts and minds of a lot of boomers, and hopefully in the lives of the newer and younger generations. Nice post.

  18. Mimsey
    Mimsey says:

    I’m surprised you don’t claim Gen X is the first to discover sex, too.

    It was the Boomer gals who gave women the choices in the work force. Gen X women reaped the benefits of the struggles of the boomer generation. The boomer women broke down the doors.

    Gen X may be redefining family and work, but every generation does this in response to the economic and social forces they face. It is nothing new.

  19. Helen
    Helen says:

    Thank God for a light post after the last one.

    I am a Gen x’er (born in 69), and I started noticing a few years ago how all the commercials seemed to be using 80’s music, either straight out, or something that sounds like a hit from then. I knew it then that I was in the sought after demographic of the advertisers. Good old nostalgia bloody well works doesn’t it?

  20. GenerationXpert
    GenerationXpert says:

    I really like it when you write about Gen X. I know you think people don’t want to read about Gen X anymore, but I love your pieces that focus on this cohort.

    One thing I’ve been thinking lately about Gen X in my field is that we really need to work hard to attract and retain them. Even though the Boomer/Gen Y love fest is still full steam, even Boomers will have to admit it will be hard for a 25-year-old to replace them when they retire – no matter how tech savvy. Therefore, even if people don’t want to read about Gen X, they need to. Boomers DID put in a lot of effort into their businesses, associations, nonprofits, etc., and most that I talk to want to see that work continue when they retire. We can do that. We have the experience now – but there’s a lot fewer of us. It’s all about supply and demand.

    So keep writing about X. We’re a tough crowd for an employer to convince to come work for them – and our experience + tech skills are in high demand.

    I’m just sayin…

  21. Nancy
    Nancy says:

    This is a Gen X commercial because Gen X was in their teens and tweens when Star Wars came out. The parents are us, but the kid is us too.

    He/she has the power we all dreamed of as kids but we sort of never got in life.

    I think that’s why the Dad understands.

  22. Jessica
    Jessica says:

    The last post was way funnier-the comments were awesome. All the ladies with their undies in a bunch.

  23. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    There’s a few things that will have to happen in the NFL and the sport of football before we see less concussions. It will require more than just a penalty during the game or a fine. More like a suspension from playing a game or games. It will need to be the customers (fans) that need to express their outrage, disgust, or whatever. It will take some time for the sport to witness the reduction of brain injury and concussions significantly since football players will have to “unlearn” stuff like leading with the head when making a tackle.
    It reminds me of hockey in the sixties and early seventies. No helmets. Missing teeth. Enforcers and fights. The fans got tired of it and things eventually changed. Fights got to be unpopular and skating technique and passing the puck effectively became more important. Luckily my friends and I didn’t take off each others heads as kids with our slapshots, etc. while we tried to emulate the pros.

  24. Chris McLaughlin
    Chris McLaughlin says:

    I suppose when you are a spokesmaven for a generation you have to believe the notions you create about that generation. And the notions others created about other generations. But really, I’m an actual Boomer and I don’t know any of us who fit even half of picture you present so clearly and firmly. Do the people you know really fit your stereotypes so well? Can you even see people who don’t? I wonder, especially about your Madison neighbors, who must be all sort of vague and misty to you, as well as unfashionable.

    • David Propper
      David Propper says:

      I’m with you, Chris. I’m a boomer, too. Penelope seems angry. Hey, Penelope, I’ve been angry at my own generation’s values for all my adult life and I can tell you this – do yourself a big favor – stop being angry at anyone or anything. It is wasted energy, and it makes you old. And bitter. And generalizations are dangerous, no? But, I will still read your blog. You have a lot of great insights and ideas and it gives me a different perspective. Maybe you, too need a little different perspective once in a while. My 32 y.o. daughter and my 28 y.o. son are amazing. For that, I thank my wife who was a full-time mom until they were in their late teens – and that was hard for us, financially. Really hard. I wish I was there more for them, but it was mostly my loss. However, we love each other big time and that’s the way it is for most of my friends and their kids. We are closer to our children than we were to our own parents.
      And, oh, I drive a Jetta. But we shouldn’t be driving cars at all – not BMW’s, not Jetta’s. Or, at least, not much. It is not sustainable. Right? Right!!!! Strapping 1.5 tons of metal to your butt isn’t much better than strapping 2 or 3 tons to your butt. There is a better way – I hope gen X or Y leads the way and soon. And there’s more to our problems than transportation. Like Ralph Nader used to say in the early 70’s – “it’s time we stop worrying about our Gross National Product and start worrying about our Gross National Problems.” Those problems are worse now than they were then and I pray that I will be around long enough to suffer through them right along with you.

  25. Joselle
    Joselle says:

    This post makes me want to cry and listen to Throwing Muses while I make potato-leek soup for my husband to eat when he comes home from work.

    I’m sure having my period has something to do with this, too.

    I’m 31 so I’m a generational cusper. Late Gen X’er/early millenial. But then I look at my record collection–shit, I HAVE a record collection–and get weepy over posts like this and I know I am an X’er all the way. I love this generation.

  26. Erika
    Erika says:

    Star Wars is continuing to be a Gen X meme. I loved this too..mockumentary on how parents introduced their kids to Star Wars.

    I did have a personal crisis when my daughter asked me to tell her who Leia ends up with – Luke or Han Solo. I just couldn’t give up the secret it took 10 years to reveal! And then I told her anyway.

  27. Noel Rozny
    Noel Rozny says:

    @Alison, Ha ha, no, definitely not a Passat. I couldn’t even afford a Passat if I wanted one. But the intimate, fun family stuff? Yes, that I’ll take.

      • Chris M.
        Chris M. says:

        VW wins because its “brand” get associated with something people liked. I highly doubt they think people will actually by a Passat just because of the cute ad.

        People win because they feel inspired with the ad and may change things in their lives to have the same type of experience in their lives (which certainly doesn’t require having a Passat or any car for that matter).

  28. Caryn
    Caryn says:

    I passed a kid and mom walking back to their car in the library parking lot. Kid was staring at the cars as they walked past. So when the kid reached mine, I flashed the lights, just to make the universe a more interesting place.

    Love the commercial. Thank you.

  29. Noel Rozny
    Noel Rozny says:

    @Alison, Good point! I have a personal issue with VW, though, and that’s why I wouldn’t purchase one. I wonder if this ad would (or will) reach their desired effect with someone else.

  30. kare anderson
    kare anderson says:

    Simply not true.

    They have crafted a heart-felt story that appeals to a broad market of humans, not just parents or parents of a certain age.
    As you can see by who is tweeting about this ad and commenting on FB and elsewhere, there are at least as many boomers loving it:
    (you wrote) You could not sell Baby Boomers with this. They think it's lame to sit in a kitchen waiting for your kid to be hungry.

  31. J Taylor
    J Taylor says:

    What a poorly written article. I would not say this, normally. Simply put, your assumptions, and suppositions about the role of women throughout history, and society is uneducated, and demeaning. Go fly a kite.

  32. jen
    jen says:

    highly reminiscent of my life gen x life. even down to the age of the boy and ironically – the older tween sister’s bedroom! way to hit the nail on the head, passat.

  33. Donna
    Donna says:

    Gotta love Vdub – €“ great products and great marketing. I love my GTI! But what's with the swipe at us boomers? I bet that many Gen Xers were able to have choices because their boomer parents worked their tails off to make that possible. As a boomer and a woman, I DID have the choice to do what I wanted and for me that included not having kids. I'm happy that you love being a parent but please don't present it as the be all/end all for women. That's archaic thinking and just not like you at all.

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