• In “The Middle” – VW Masters Product Placement & Barking Dogs

My family of five rarely sits down together to watch TV.

With a small business, kids’ activities and an office redesign project underway, we aren’t much for sitting in front of the glow of the flat screen, but we’re working on it.

We do try to watch The Middle, an ABC comedy featuring the Hecks, an Indiana family of five trying to get by in a hectic world where both parents work and juggle the complexity of kids’ homework and their quirky personalities.

The Middle has a similar feel to the Fox hit Malcolm in the Middle featuring a family with four boys and their mischievous adventures. That’s another classic family show with a bit of an edge.

The ultimate product placement
On Jan. 18, I was surprised by the not-so-subtle product placement on The Middle by automaker Volkswagen and its new Passat, which will be hitting showrooms soon.

This shiny new piece of German VW engineering played a major role in the 22-minute sitcom as the Hecks drove their neighbor’s new car for a week.

Mama Heck was supposed to just pull the car into the neighbor’s garage, but she just couldn’t avoid the “smell of fresh leather, its clean interior and its roomy trunk.” You’ll have to watch the show to see how it ends.

Cute singing dogs + hit cult movie = memorable TV ad
Ironically, Mama “Frankie” Heck is a used car saleswoman at a non-descript car lot somewhere outside of Indianapolis and not far from French Lick. The car logos are always covered on Frankie’s cars, but on this episode of The Middle, the famous VW logo couldn’t be more prominent. Then, during the first commercial break, VW hit another marketing homerun with some furry fidos barking the "Imperial March" from Star Wars.

Watch the creative ad for yourself.

Here’s what AdWeek said about the VW spot.

Kudos to VW for putting together the product placement and The Bark Side ad to tease audiences for its upcoming Super Bowl spot.

The “Imperial March” campaign builds off the success of last year’s Darth Vader “The Force” spot during Super Bowl XLVI, and this canine chorus instantly became a viral hit with some 9.5 million viewers watching it on YouTube since last week.

The marketing lesson
As we’re all exposed to countless marketing messages, communicators have to dial up the creativity even more to cut through the clutter. To connect and engage with potential customers, you have to catch them when they least expect it … even if is during the half hour they pause each week to watch TV as a family.

At 6’1”, Jonathan Rhudy thinks the roomy interior of the VW Passat might be just what he needs when he sells his family’s Swagger Wagon.