“Think small” – when creativity turned a frog into a princess!

OK_1682699-slide-slide-3-a-brief-cultural-history-of-the-volkswagen-beetleIn 1959 Volkswagen hired the Doyle Dane Bernbach (DDB) advertisement agency to create a campaign to introduce the VW Beetle to the U.S. market. The ads set a new standard in creative marketing and connected with consumers on an emotional level, conveying the product benefits in ways the consumers easily could relate to.

The ads were breathtakingly simple and efficient.

In the 50s, the stretch Fords or Chevrolets from Detroit was the hottest cars on the roads. The automotive industry was building bigger cars for the growing families of baby boomers. World War II was only 15 years away. And Volkswagen Beetle tried to make its way into the North American market.

Initially it never made it to the big league. Not so strange; the car was German, built in an old Nazi plant, was small, different – and most people found it ugly…

They turned a frog into a prince – the tiny, squat car, also known affectionately as ‘The Bug, was, admittedly, ugly. Its heater never worked. It barely hit 70 miles per hour on the highway. The driver and passengers almost needed to lean forward while climbing hills.

What did DDB do?
They confronted the challenge with a solution that might possibly be one of the finest moments in the history of marketing*. In this highly competitive and challenging environment, DDB introduced the Beetle with an ad campaign that positioned the product perfectly and won the hearts and minds of the masses. The ads connected with consumers emotionally and communicated the product benefits loud and clear – easy for the consumers to relate to.

Be honest. Confront potential negative comments and views by playing on them in the value proposition. Be playful. And so what If the Americans did not like the looks of the VW Beetle? Never mind! Use it!

  • “The 1970 VW will stay ugly longer”
  • “It makes your house look smaller”
  • “Impossible”
  • “Lemon”
  • “And if you run out of gas, it is easy to push”
  • “Think Small”

“Think small” contains a small picture of the car, where the supporting text highlights the advantages of driving the small Beetle versus a big car. “Lemon” plays on the quality of the car and that you as a customer would get the plums – the lemons missed the boat from Europe and remained in the factory.

The take-away

Thetake-away and value proposition was obvious. And the masses loved it. And the lasting impact DDB and the ad campaign can easily be found today. How they made art directors and copywriters work together has been standard practice ever since. When product differences are minor – marketers turn to emotions. Because it helps things sell.


You need faith in the agency, Mr. Wilson from WV says. We’re paying them good money. If you tell them what you want, why pay them money? And if they tell you what they think you ought to be doing, you should be listening.    



* The industry trade publication, Advertising Age, named it No. 1 of campaigns. (http://adage.com/article/special-report-the-advertising-century/ad-age-advertising-century-top-100-campaigns/140918/ )

Sources: ”VW Ads Paved the Creative High Road”, by Etan Vlessing http://strategyonline.ca/1992/11/30/6755-19921130/#ixzz2XXaHTYe2

OK_1682699-slide-slide-2-a-brief-cultural-history-of-the-volkswagen-beetle OK_bernbach2 OK_it makes your house look bigger OK_pic24 Impossible


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