HELMUT KRONE’S VW ADS.
SIGN UP TO OUR MAILING LIST
Vintage Volkswagen press adverts
Think Small. That’s the line that would effectively launch what has since been voted the best campaign of all time, cementing a revolutionary design that went totally against the grain and shook up the staid 1950 / 60s ad world.
The line, of course, belongs to the famed VW ad, which eschewed the convention of huge product shot and in-your-face headline in favour of clever, honest copy that played to the product’s smarts.
But while that has become the most famous example of the VW ads, which was the brainchild of agency Doyle, Dane and Bernbach, it actually appeared three years into a campaign that had been making waves on Madison Avenue since 1959. The idea was simple – present the car without props (virtually unheard of at the time) and, in the copy, gently mock the VW’s shortcomings, including its looks and its size, while subtly sneaking in some sales points.
Its layout is still the hallmark of VW ads today, more than 60 years on, and a quick search online reveals a host of polls by revered marketing sites putting the campaign fairly and squarely at the top. And a huge part of the credit for that goes to the talents of art director Helmut Krone.
Although only a subtle twist on a fairly standard layout (disparagingly known by DDB as The Ogilvy Layout as it was considered old-fashioned), his VW ads managed to be iconic. In fact Krone hated using logos on his work (it made it obvious that you were selling something) and instead wanted to create an ad style that could be identified from 20 yards away. He undoubtedly succeeded, and memorable incarnations of the campaign have included some of the ingenious picture / copy combinations seen here.
But of course, that combination was only made possible because the other half of the creative duo, copywriter Julian Koenig, was just as talented. Koenig had created such straplines as Timex’s ‘Takes a licking and keeps on ticking’, and turned his skills to perfectly capturing the self-deprecating tone that would amuse and intrigue potential customers.
There were other factors that came into play to help guarantee the campaign’s success: ‘Think Small’ was allegedly part of the body copy until VW’s Helmut Schmidt rejected the proposed ‘Wilkommen’ and suggested that as a title instead; ‘Lemon’ was supposedly the brainchild of DDB employee Rita Seldon, and was only made possible thanks to VW’sKurt Kroner rejecting a car for having a tiny scratch. But whatever the various fortunes of the account, that doesn’t detract from the campaign’s success and its huge influence on modern advertising. It also helped cement the car’s success. A design icon in its own right, the VW Beetle had started life in 1938; although VW would release updated versions throughout the years, the original ‘Lemon’ was produced in Mexico until 30th July 2003. In fact, the last model rolled off the production line just 14 days after what would have been Helmut Krone’s 78th birthday.