By Chuck Ross —
How bad is it these days for Volkswagen? Ad Age reported recently that “VW-owned Audi continued to run its regular TV ads that include its ‘Truth In Engineering’ tagline. On VW’s Facebook page, one commenter twisted that slogan to say ‘Engineering the Truth.’”
That’s what you get for screwing around with 11 million diesel engine cars so they pollute like crazy.
Who knows how long before VW will once again be thought of in a positive light by consumers.
But whatever the future holds for VW, let us not forget that the original VW Beetle was truly a brilliantly engineered car that changed the face of advertising. Indeed, when I was working at Ad Age back in 1999, and we were putting together a special issue about the last 100 years in advertising, the work done by Doyle Dane Bernbach (DDB) for VW was named the top ad campaign of the century.
The VW Beetle was, compared with most American automobiles, the anti-car. And DDB’s advertising for it was almost anti-advertising, in that it humorously played up all the features of the Beetle, most of which were 180 degrees from what U.S. advertising was touting about U.S. cars.
For example, American cars, generally changed their look every year or every few years. Beetles looked the same year in and year out. They were small cars, powered by small rear-mounted engines. They were cheap to run and cheap to fix.
As Ad Age’s indispensable “Encyclopedia of Advertising” notes, “In the 1960s, the Volkswagen Beetle became the best-selling imported car in America, and its advertising became the most influential in the industry. For all the praise the campaign has received, however, it should be noted that the product offered DDB a creative luxury; it was not the sort of ‘parity’ product agencies typically struggle to separate from the competition. The VW was a unique product that virtually forced its uniqueness upon the advertising.”
Fortunately for all of us, DDB was up to the task. That was primarily due to three men: the B in DDB, and it’s creative director, Bill Bernbach; the primary art director on the account, Helmut Krone; and copywriter Julian Koenig. They created print ads that were vividly memorable.
Several years ago Buzzfeed posted 50 Beetle print ads that were their favorites. They are wonderful, and you’ll have a great time looking at them here. But before you click over, here’s my favorite Beetle ad, from my own collection of ads. It was done by DDB in 1962 for a local Los Angeles VW dealership. The art director and designer of the ad was Stan Jones. The picture was taken by Bernard Gardner, and the copywriter was either Janet Boden or Dan Dixon.