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Oh, for the Halcyon Days: We Should Not Let the Deceptions of Recent Volkswagen Management Obscure the Brilliance of the Original VW Bug, Which Inspired a Sea Change in the World of Advertising. It’s the Fun (and Educational) Must-Read Story of the Day

Oct 8, 2015  •  Post A Comment

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.





  1. The photos from 1939 of a man getting a VW for his 50th birthday are really, really fun. Who’s the guy with the moustache?

  2. If VW could overcome the fact that Hitler designed the car and that they eagerly supported the Third Reich – they will survive a little problem with 11 million engines!

  3. As Reality Check has alluded to, what Doug is referencing is that Volkswagen and the Beetle have roots in Nazi Germany and Adolf Hitler. My understanding is that the car had its origins in ideas from Ferdinand Porsche. Hitler was interested, and according to the Encyclopedia of Advertising, “The Nazi German Labor Front financed and operated the company from its beginnings.”

    After WWII, according to the Encyclopedia, VW was basically run by the West German government, and then, in January, 1961, 60% of the equity of the company was sold to the public in an initial public offering. DDB first took on VW as a client in the spring of 1959.

    Chuck Ross

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