In 1959, VW started a campaign to sell the Beetle in the US. It was a tough job, and rightfully so. Why would Americans buy a small car from a nation they were at war with less than 15 years prior? At that time, the American economy was doing great, affording the middle class to purchase huge American cars. So, how did it sell in America and become one of the world’s best selling cars of all time?
For one, the design of the car led to it being easy to produce and fix. The outer design, what people base their first impressions on was unique at the time. When VW started selling their Beetles in the US, people were skeptical. Innovative advertising, like the “Think small” rendition were eye-catching. The intriguing ad directed by William Bernbach made people curious to read on and it was later proclaimed as the best ad of the century by Advertising Age.
Another ad in the same series by Doyle Bane Bernbach (DDB) attested to the quality of the Beetle. It is meant to swing people over and away from their traditional American cars by attesting to the Beetle’s quality through self-depreciation and nit-picky quality issues if they weren’t assured of VW’s quality already.
In the ad it states that the car has been rejected because of a blemished chrome strip on the glove compartment and is therefore a lemon. It goes on to state that there are more quality inspectors than Beetles produced per day. Wouldn’t that give you the confidence that the Beetle is of high quality?
What can be learned about these ads? For one, it means that going against the mainstream could be very lucrative. How was it against the mainstream? At the time of the ads represented in this post, the mainstream in the car industry was over the top size, luxury, and power. The Beetle was totally different and so were the ads.
What did the advertisements do? They made people stop and think. They also incorporate a touch of humor. This is because they were so different. “Think small” focused on the concept that bigger is not always better. “Lemon” was also intriguing, but less so at first site. Once read, it made was made clear to potential buyers that the Beetle was produced with quality as a top priority.
You can use as much money as you want to tell people to buy a product, but if you have a well designed ad, you can gain a lot of ground very efficiently. As William Bernbach once said, “Nobody counts the number of ads you run; they just remember the impression you make.”