What made the VW Beetle ad campaign so radical? Ads before it were either information-based or lacking in persuasion, more fantasy than reality. When Volkswagen hired the Doyle Dane Bernbach ad agency to create a campaign that would introduce the Beetle to the U.S. market in 1960, auto makers were building ever bigger cars for growing families with Baby Boomer children. The Beetle, on the other hand, was tiny and, well, ugly. Who would buy it? On top of this, the Beetle was manufactured in Wolfsburg, Germany, at a plant built by the Nazis.
What made it stand out? What were some of the strategies and tactic? And how did it apply to Web Design today?
Let’s begin with the layout of the ads.
The Whitespace is one of the few visual elements so effective in the modern world of web design with an empty background; your eyes are forced to take in the element. This tricks you into seeing the element in a new light; the way the designers see it. In the case of VW advertising the car was ugly and foreign car in a sea of American beauties but had a uniquely attractive design statement oozing with personality.
Readers were drawn in with BOLD headlines to confuse them reader and force them to read on. Then they tell you how lousy the product can be. What the viewer didn’t know is the tactic shows how something so bad can be a good thing. The copywriters even changed the name to something cool like VW. It’s easy to remember and it’s not complicated to say. This Straw Man technique is a fallacy is committed when a person simply ignores a person’s actual position and substitutes a distorted, exaggerated or misrepresented version of that position. An opponent’s argument is usually overstated or misrepresented in order to be more easily attacked or refuted.
In the design world, on the other-hand, a “straw man” is an artifact of some kind — like a page design, flow chart, storyboard, etc. — intended to initiate discussion.
The strawman is created with the intent that it will be pulled apart and discarded. It is used to encourage discussion of the layout’s strengths and weaknesses and to generate better designs.
The key advantage of a strawman is that it provides something concrete to discuss. The team can point to it, sketch on it, discuss why an element won’t work or what they would prefer to see. It allows the team to discuss the layout without it being abstract.
Think Small was one of the most famous ads in the advertising campaign for the Volkswagen Beetle, art directed by Helmut Krone. The copy for Think Small was written by Julian Koenig at the Doyle Dane Bernbach (DDB) agency in 1959.
“I implore you; value the work that you do. Put so much thought and effort into it that people will still care in fifty years.” Think about the effort and time that went into making the Think Small campaign a success. If you value your work and your ideas it will be your driver and motivator.
DDB agency worked as a team. They valued and respected each other’s ideas. Each of them knew their strengths and each of them stayed in their lane. I think this is why this campaign was so successful.
What tools and strategies do you think they used? The strategy they used was playing on customers emotions. They used an emotional connection rather than information to make a decision and their emotional response. It’s such an amazing example of how designers and marketers can influence the minds of an entire generation. Good design changes the world and I simply can’t get enough of it.