AdvertisingHall of Fame

The real Mad-Men


Keeping it simple and significant

The end of the WWII saw a lot of changes around the world. The United States of America was convincing its populace to live the big fat American dream. The target of that zeitgeist was not just the working class, but also the elite. Everyone wanted the opportunity to not just have their cake but eat it too.

Owning a house, having a proper car and having a Sophia Lauren or Clint Eastwood lookalike partner was one of the few aspirations of that period. Cars like the Cadillac with all its frills and fancy was the desire of most people who could think about affording a car. In such an aspirational scenario, Volkswagen dared to stand out with the efforts of the mad men from DDB.

With a minimalistic print and self-deprecating humor, the Volkswagen ads stood out from the norm of muscular cars which were doing the rounds at that time. Ads for the Pontiac were all about selling the luxurious lifestyle. But Volkswagen appealed to the economic sensibilities of the people. It was for those who could not afford a summer in the Hamptons.


When did it all change?

By talking about the minimal gas consumption or the fact that it could be pushed if it ran out of gas, the print campaigns played on the common sense of the people. By claiming that the car was nowhere near fancy with funny names like ‘Lemon’, the car campaigns were also anti-establishment.


Thinking Small and Thinking Ahead

The attempt was to make the car a part of the American without denting anyone’s pocket. So the creative minds at DDB came together and made those iconic Volkswagen ads which made the car popular amongst the Americans. Volkswagen was all about asking Americans to ‘Think Small’ to fulfill their big American dream. What made the ads more effective was that they were disarmingly simple. Making average more desirable, the Volkswagen was something that would have even appealed to Red Foreman from That 70’s Show.

While advertising the car in print, it was placed in such a manner against a black and white background that your eyes would inevitably be drawn to it. In fact, by today’s standards, the advertisements could even be called click-bait. The only difference was that consumers could actually go and buy the car.

Selling without selling

The promotion was not limited only to print ads. TV spots were also released. The idea was to sell the car as a ‘People’s car’. Hence the commercial about two neighbors where one of them buys one car for $3000 while another buys a dryer, two TVs, and a Volkswagen car.

Volkswagen’s journey on American soil after the Nazi era connection has been chronicled in a documentary ‘Remember Those Great Volkswagen Ads?’ by British filmmaker Joe Marcantonio. The documentary captures the power of advertising and lets the mind behind those minimalist ads do the talking. In under 20 minutes, the documentary lets the audience experience the creativity that went behind making ‘People’s Car’ popular.

With minimalist advertising and quirky copywriting the car soon became the talk of the town. The self-deprecating humor also worked well for the company before the whole pollution debacle of 2015. The Volkswagen campaign showed how agencies could imprint a product across the cultural psyche of a populace. But the brand loyalty has been tested with the emission scandal.

When an ad does not look too much like an ad, it has a greater possibility of leaving an imprint. Selling without really selling is what actually sells. After all, brands communicate to connect, not confound.


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