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Ad/Campaign: VW Beetle

Agency: Doyle Dane Bernbach New York (DDB)

Creatives: Julian Koenig and Helmut Krone

Ok so to start off I’m going for this revolutionary print campaign for the VW Beetle.

Ad Age voted this campaign from the 1950’s as the best advertising campaign of the 20th century. Now with all the weird and wonderful things that we’ve seen in advertising since then, on first glance it may be difficult to see why. The fact is that it is ground breaking. To see the genius behind this campaign there are a few social and cultural factors that you have to take in to consideration.

First of all at the time of this Ad VW were faced with selling a car that was conceived, designed and built in Nazi Germany. Trying to market this odd looking small car to a mass consumer American market who were mainly interested in big powerful American made ‘muscle cars’ just 15 years after the second world war was going to be no easy feat.

With these hurdles in front of them, Julian Koenig and Helmut Krone’s ‘Think small’ campaign still managed to boost sales of the Volkswagen Beetle. By how much? 60 years later VW is still a prominent client of DDB…

Before ‘Think small’, Ads were about showing the obvious aesthetic qualities of the product. A big shiny picture of a car in all its glory with paragraphs of text explaining in detail why it is so great. Hardly creative. And not telling the consumer why this car in particular is best suited to them and their family (or at the time more notably ‘Him’ and ‘His’ family. Social attitudes being what they were in the 50’s, a car ad would have been geared towards a man.)

If anything the VW Ads showed you the initial faults with product through humor but then went on to explain why these were not faults after all but in actual fact they were benefits. How did they do this?
They played upon their target market’s conscience that was a product of social, economical and cultural change at that time in America.

With the baby boom still booming in America a relatively short time after the war the campaign sought out to appeal to the needs of young couples starting new families. These needs were mainly safety and cost. The Ads capitalized on these factors and VW reaped the rewards.

The print Ad with simply ‘Lemon’ as the tagline illustrated the safety and quality aspects of the car. Lemon is the term used on the production line when the product has a fault deeming it unfit for public consumption. The Ad went on to say how Wolfsburg inspectors would reject a VW model on the line for something as simple as a blemish on the dash board meaning a buyer would receive a car that was nothing less that 100% safe and efficient. Team this with the VW Beetle’s cost effectiveness and DDB have just presented to their client an Ad campaign that is as simple and as effective as the Car they set out to showcase.

This campaign was ground breaking in that they found a concept that worked for the product and the consumer and championed a less is more approach at a time when no one else was doing so. Advertisers have followed suit ever since, completely changing the way the industry thinks about selling a product.

Ironically, with this concept they thought outside the box… They dared to think big!


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