Volkswagen’s ‘Think Small’ ad campaign not only boosted sales and built brand loyalty, it changed the very nature of advertising.

Volkswagen hired the Doyle Dane Bernbach ad agency to create a campaign to introduce the Beetle to the US market in 1960. The marketing situation was tough because competing automakers were developing bigger cars for growing families while the Beetle was tiny and not as good looking as its competitors. To top it off, it was built manufactured in Wolfsburg, Germany, at a plant built by the Nazis.

Why does this ad campaign stand out more than the others? If we consider the trend of automotive advertising at that period, it was either information based or lacking in persuasion, and depended on medium’s ability to deliver repeated exposure. When it came to the Beetle ads, however, it connected with consumers on a more emotional level, while conveying the product’s benefits in a way the consumers could relate to.

The Beetle ad campaign also stands out for its use of television, which was in 90% of homes by the mid 1960s. Beetle’s “Funeral” TV ad connected emotionally with the car and the consumer. The words of the TV ad are as follows,

“Imagine a funeral procession as the voice of the deceased bequeaths his fortune. To each, from his wife and sons to business partners who were wasteful with money, he leaves nothing.

But to the tearful young man in a Volkswagen Beetle at the end of the line, he says: “To my nephew, Harold, who ofttimes said `A penny saved is a penny earned … and it sure pays to own a Volkswagen’ … I leave my entire fortune of a hundred billion dollars.”

Many great ads have come along since then. However, this campaign made a lasting impact that no other campaign could. The ad industry trade publication, Advertising Age, also named it the No 1 campaign.

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