No 55: 'Think Small'

campaignlive.co.uk, Thursday, 28 February 2013 08:00AM

  • VW_think-small-cropped.jpg

    VW_think-small-cropped.jpg

  • VW_think-small.jpg

    VW_think-small.jpg

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Things you need to know

  • Some DDB staff had misgivings about promoting a car once so closely associated with the Nazis. To placate one executive, Bill Bernbach told him: “We’ll take it for a year and use it to get GM.” Today, many DDB agencies still handle VW.
  • Koenig says he wrote the headline “Think small” for what was to have been a corporate ad featuring three huge American cars.
  • The impact of the VW campaign was immediate: US sales rose by almost
    25 per cent.

It was small, squat and so ugly that you would be forgiven for wondering why anybody apart from the German engineers who gave birth to it could have loved it.

Yet it’s no exaggeration to say that the Volkswagen Beetle was the spark plug that made advertisers and their agencies the world over rethink the way in which they communicated with would-be customers.

The ripples from Doyle Dane Bernbach’s "think small" advertising in the late 50s spread far beyond New York, where it was conceived.

The Beetle’s ad strategy came from Carl Hahn, the VW boss in the US, who remembered the frustration of looking for a home for his account among Madison Avenue’s finest.

"The content of the proposed ads was always the same: a beautiful house, very happy people in front, beautifully dressed – and a glamorous car," he later recalled.

Having impressed Hahn with its laid-back and unpretentious approach, DDB got the business – and what looked like the brief from hell.

Hahn’s thinking was brought to life by the copywriter Julian Koenig and the art director Helmut Krone, a second-generation German American. The result of their efforts was simple, uncluttered and honest advertising that reflected the "no-frills" offering of the Beetle itself.

The ads never tried to turn the Beetle into something that it wasn’t. They simply emphasised the practical advantages of owning one.

As the copy in "think small" put it: "Once you get used to some of our economies, you don’t even think about them any more.

"Except when you squeeze into a small parking spot. Or renew your small insurance. Or pay a small repair bill."

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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