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Faux Fairbanks appears in new Volkswagen Beetle ad

Suzanna Caldwell
The similarities between Vallejo, Calif., and Fairbanks, Alaska, are innumerable (to anyone who's never visited Alaska's Golden Heart City). YouTube screengrab

There's a new Volkswagen Beetle Convertible commercial making the Internet rounds, encouraging people to “brighten their night” by watching a 30-second clip of the car making rounds in Fairbanks, the “land of the midnight sun.”

Except, anyone who's actually visited that land knows the commercial features something a lot more like California and lot less like Alaska.

The short commercial released last month details the early morning cruise of a young, hip couple making their way through a sleepy, sun-filled town. A woman wakes up in an immaculately decorated apartment then spots her boyfriend waiting at her very well manicured curb with his 2013 Beetle convertible.

They make their way past a snoozing sheriff and an empty diner. They roll past Noble Street -- an actual street in Fairbanks -- where a reindeer stands staring down the open-air VW Bug. From there the smiling couple, wind blowing their hair, cruises out of town -- which a roadside billboard reveals to be Fairbanks, Alaska, surrounded by pines, treeless, dun-colored, rolling hills and a large, still body of water.

Too bad none of those exist in Fairbanks. It was actually filmed in Vallejo, Calif. -- a far cry from the rolling, birch covered hills and meandering rivers of Interior Alaska.

Deb Hickok, president and CEO of the Fairbanks Convention and Visitors Bureau said she and the rest of her staff got a kick out of seeing “Fairbanks” in the commercial.

“Great that it's positive, that it puts (Fairbanks) front and center,” she said. “You can't buy that kind of publicity.”

Still, she wished the company maybe would have consulted with some Fairbanksans before putting the commercial together. There are no sheriffs in Fairbanks, she noted, and good luck ever finding a caribou roaming downtown. But at least they tried to go for some local flair, Hickok said.

And, she joked, “At least they spelled Fairbanks right."

Alaska Dispatch reached out to Volkswagen to learn a little more about their decision to film a “Fairbanks” commercial in a place so very much unlike Fairbanks. So far, no word back.

It's not as if Alaskans aren't used to seeing “Alaska” filmed in other places, though generally those are more Alaska-like British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest. In the last few years, transferrable Alaska state tax credits have spurred film production, with two major feature films and heaps of reality shows taking advantage of the lucrative benefits.

But maybe lawmakers who tout the tax credit should take note. In March, the Vallejo Times Herald interviewed the commercial’s location scouting master, Wilson Wu. He told the newspaper he scouted lots of Northern California towns, but none fit quite like Vallejo did.

"It's pictorially interesting and beautiful, and word gets around that this was shot there, and it can engender civic pride," Wu told the Times Herald. "Plus, why go to Canada if we can do Alaska and a lot of other things here?"

That's an argument that can be made about a lot of things in Alaska, but good luck telling that to the 730,000 people fiercely proud of the 49th state.

Whether or not Volkswagen cares at all about this remains to be seen. It's unlikely many Alaskans care much about buying a Beetle -- much less a convertible. Because good luck getting one of those through the icy streets of Fairbanks in winter.

Contact Suzanna Caldwell at suzanna(at)alaskadispatch.com

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