HOW VW MAKES GREAT ADS: The secret of VW's advertising excellence

When I joined Volkswagen's advertising department in 1969, the only 'copy' I knew about was produced by a photostat machine. The ads that David Abbott presented to my boss Alan Priest were my introduction to advertising and inspired me to become a copywriter.

When I joined Volkswagen's advertising department in 1969, the only 'copy' I knew about was produced by a photostat machine. The ads that David Abbott presented to my boss Alan Priest were my introduction to advertising and inspired me to become a copywriter.

So, my love of the Volkswagen campaign is easily explained, but why are they so popular with everyone else? David, John O'Driscoll and I first produced the book Remember Those Great Volkswagen Ads? almost 20 years ago. Hardly a week has gone by without one of us receiving a request for a copy. In his book When Advertising Tried Harder, Larry Dobrow hailed the US Volkswagen work as the best campaign of all time. There are many British admen who would agree.

The creative revolution of the late 50s and early 60s produced many outstanding individual ads, even sets of ads, but this really was its first campaign, pre-dating Avis by three years or more.

The art direction was unlike anything that had come before. It had a Bauhaus cleanliness about it. The square, sharp Futura typeface was a perfect choice, it had the no-nonsense air of precision engineering. The simple, almost stark page layout visually undermined the pretentiousness of rival car ads. In Detroit, size did matter, their cars' already lengthy bodies were further elongated in fanciful air-brushed illustrations that had a ritzy residence or besotted blonde thrown in for good measure.

The copy also represented a radical change. Humanity replaced pomposity.

The headlines would frequently ask a question rather than make a claim.

They were witty and disarmingly honest. The copy agreed that the Beetle was no oil painting, but boy, did it work. This artful admission of a disadvantage made the car's advantages all the more believable. The ads were also an object lesson in singlemindedness. They set out to dramatise one truth about the product at a time, rather than parade an unwieldy list of them. These features of the campaign were retained so consistently that while any number of creative teams worked on the business, you can't see the joins. And it travelled. Many British ads were every bit as good as the US work, as were some French and German concepts.

One of the reasons for the campaign's position in advertising folklore is the sheer length of time that it kept winning awards. Success that has only been rivalled by the Hamlet cigars series.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about Volkswagen is the fact that it is one of those rare advertising campaigns that actually becomes part of the appeal of the product itself. The Economist posters are another, more recent example. Ironically, Mr Abbott had a hand in that one too.



The third edition of Remember Those Great Volkswagen Ads? is published on 20 November, priced pounds 29.50. Campaign readers can obtain copies for pounds 24.50 plus pounds 2.50p&p from Lucky@globalnet.co.uk.





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