Feature

Not a lemon in the bunch

Volkswagen's 'lemon' and 'think small' posters are so seminal, they overshadow many other fine ads for the car manufacturer. So Campaign asked Alfredo Marcantonio and John O'Driscoll, two of the authors of the recently updated Remember Those Great Volkswagen Ads?, to pick their favourite lesser-known executions.

  • 1 ‘The famous Italian designer suggested one change’ (1960)

    1 ‘The famous Italian designer suggested one change’ (1960)

  • 2 ‘How to do a Volkswagen ad’ (1963)

    2 ‘How to do a Volkswagen ad’ (1963)

  • 3 ‘Somebody actually stole one’ (1964)

    3 ‘Somebody actually stole one’ (1964)

  • 4 ‘After we paint the car we paint the paint’ (1965)

    4 ‘After we paint the car we paint the paint’ (1965)

  • 5 ‘It was the only thing to do after the mule died’ (1971)

    5 ‘It was the only thing to do after the mule died’ (1971)

  • 6 ‘All for the price of an Austin 1100’ (1971)

    6 ‘All for the price of an Austin 1100’ (1971)

  • 7 ‘See this unique demonstration at any Volkswagen showroom’ (1972)

    7 ‘See this unique demonstration at any Volkswagen showroom’ (1972)

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1 ‘The famous Italian designer suggested one change’ (1960)

"This was the first Volkswagen ad I ever saw. It was in a copy of The New Yorker that my mum brought home from her cleaning job. Up until then, I felt sorry for anyone who had to drive such an ugly car. The fact that an Italian designer said that all it needed was a bigger rear window made me think perhaps it didn’t look so awful after all. See, advertising works." (JO)

2 ‘‘How to do a Volkswagen ad’ (1963)

"This ad was written by John Withers. John was the first creative director of the DDB London office when it opened in the 60s. John wrote this ad when he worked on the Volkswagen account in New York. You could say that this ad could be done for any product. And you might be right. That’s if you could find a client brave enough." (JO)

3 ‘Somebody actually stole one’ (1964)

"Volkswagen turned its attention to selling its bus in the US when a trade war forced it to stop selling commercial vehicles. For consumers, it was even more of a brave purchase than the Beetle had been. Research showed that people – women, in particular – found it both unwieldy and unattractive. The first two paragraphs are priceless: ‘We were tickled pink to hear that somebody wanted a Volkswagen Station Wagon badly enough to go out and steal one. It wasn’t so long ago that we practically couldn’t give them away.’Times have changed, and those 21-window split-screen Samba buses can now fetch more than £50,000." (AM)

4 ‘After we paint the car we paint the paint’ (1965)

"No car manufacturer had been brave enough to show a raw car before. In truth, I can’t think of any who have been brave enough since. The copy bears testimony not only to the quality of the Beetle’s paintwork but also to the value of a factory visit. It ends: ‘So after 3 times, you’d think we wouldn’t bother to paint it again and bake it again. Right? Wrong.’" (AM)

5 ‘It was the only thing to do after the mule died’ (1971)

"Just imagine how many clients might have ruined this ad. ‘Great, but let’s show a pristine, top-of-the-range model. We want to look our best… Hmm. Shouldn’t the couple reflect our target audience a bit more closely? Small point: could the house be rather more aspirational? Mule? Wouldn’t pony be nicer? And "died"… it’s so negative.’ The result? Two thirtysomethings, outside a country pile with the headline: ‘It was the only thing to do when the pony was taken ill.’" (AM)

6 ‘All for the price of an Austin 1100’ (1971)

"I was working in the ad department at Volkswagen in Purley when this ran. After an initial appearance in the Sunday papers, Lord Stokes, the head of the Austin car-maker, British Leyland, went ballistic with one of his distributors, who also owned the Volkswagen importer. Alan Dix, our managing director, was told never to run the ad again. The trouble was, it was already printed in that Wednesday’s Daily Mirror magazine. He actually asked my boss Alan Priest to look into buying up all the copies." (AM)

7 ‘See this unique demonstration at any Volkswagen showroom’ (1972)

"This ad was copywritten by David Abbott and art directed by Brian Byfield, when they both worked at the DDB London office. It sticks in my mind because of the last two lines of copy. David wrote: "In my opinion, you won’t find better value for money anywhere. And I know my lying colleague would agree." (JO)

Remember Those Great Volkswagen Ads? by Alfredo Marcantonio, David Abbott and John O’Driscoll is priced at £39.95 and published by Merrell Publishers

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