Selling the Volkswagen Beetle to America was always going to be tough. New York agency Doyle, Dane, Bernbach took on the job, and changed advertising forever in the process.

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It was a remarkably difficult sell. The Volkswagen Beetle, Hitler’s favourite car, ugly, unconventional, and European in every way, needed to be shifted Stateside. But what made the car appealing to Europeans – its basic and utilitarian approach to motoring, bizarre shape, and low horsepower – was distinctly unattractive to the American market. 
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In the postwar period, when the Beetle was launched in the US, petrol was rationed in Europe, so the small, economy car was a vital addition to the market. No such constraints bothered the US car market. And, US motorists are much more used to driving long distances – a task more suited to a saloon than a small car.
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So, the agency commissioned to produce the ads for the Volkswagen Beetle in the US, New York’s Doyle, Dane, Bernbach (DDB), had a huge task on its hands. The agency’s creatives tackled it with elegance and humour, changing advertising forever in the process. 
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Presenting the car’s apparent deficiencies as virtues, the Lemon ad was irreverent and charming, and did away with the empty exaggerations consumers were used to. The audience was disarmed by Volkswagen apparently making fun of its own product. 
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The flipside of the car’s basic construction was presented as great value. Its low horsepower gave it longevity. Its odd look made it unique. The ad represented a perfect marriage of copy and imagery, and set a standard that has inspired advertisers ever since. 
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DDB was at the centre of an advertising revolution that saw art directors given equal importance to copywriters. It lead to a new approach to design in advertising, opening up new possibilities for the combination of image, type, and copy.
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The campaign appealed to the new generation in the 60s – the decade that saw the dawn of youth culture. It was witty, honest, and funny, instilling the notion that the Beetle, or “Bug” as it was christened in the US, was a desirable product after all.
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The Beetle itself was redesigned in 1998. The look was updated, but the quirkiness remained.
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Chris Harman<BR>
Founder, Parent Design
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The Beetle ads are both classic in form and groundbreaking in their approach. Created by Bill Bernbach at DDB, the man who not only changed the way we look at advertising but also changed the advertising dynamic to team up copywriters with art directors for the first time.
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Bernbach, a Jew from Brooklyn, managed to turn a car that Hitler launched, a pretty ugly and impractical car but solid and inexpensive, into a charming and seductive car, aimed at intelligent, good-humored, open-minded, trendy people. One of his principles was to: “appeal to the heart instead of the head, reach people through their feelings.”
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