When advertising was fun, if a little bit non-PC


Author: Martin PortPublished:

As classic car enthusiasts, we may not be too interested in the numerous car advertisements that appear in the newspapers, magazines or on the television.

For me, it’s not just the fact that they are advertising a modern car for sale that makes me look elsewhere, but that the ads have become clone copies of each other in the same way that the cars themselves have. I am almost guaranteed to turn the page in a hurry.

There is even a print ad that claims that ‘sometimes even a headline isn’t needed’ – the fact that the sentence IS therefore acting as a headline just makes me mad in an irrational art bloke type of way.

However, just imagine what it was like to witness a bit of an advertising revolution.

Okay, some of you can well remember and don't have to imagine, but I was born in the age of Spangles, Chopper bikes and polyester clothing.

In 1959, Volkswagen commissioned  New York advertising agency Doyle Dane Bernbach to come up with a campaign to promote the Beetle.

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the Beetle was seen as a bit of an upstart in the US marketplace dominated by large sedans and station wagons, and so the agency came up with something suitable.

Their often tongue-in-cheek ads were honest, simple and quirky but seemed to work. Such gems as “You’re missing a lot when you own a Volkswagen” accompanied a picture of a pile of parts next to a Beetle: radiator and propshaft boasting the rear-engined, air-cooled aspect.

The air-cooled ‘novelty’ was also hammered home with the one-liner: “The only water a Volkswagen needs is the water you wash it with”.

My personal favourite, however, has to be the ever-so-sexist: “Sooner or later, your wife will drive home one of the best reasons for owning a Volkswagen”. Accompanied by a picture of a dented Beetle, the campaign advertised the fact that it took just 10 bolts to undo a front wing and cost just $24.95. “She can jab the hood. Graze the door. Or bump off the bumper. It may make you furious, but it won’t make you poor.”

So there you are – feel free to have a raging row with the missus, but take heart in the fact that your wallet won’t be battered as well.

VW even called their own car a ‘lemon’ in one ad, admitting that there was a bit of chrome strip missing and that Inspector Kurt Kroner (one of their alleged 3389 Wolfsburg employees tasked with making sure everything is ‘just so’), subsequently pulled the sub-standard Beetle out of the process so that it didn’t end up with a customer. Phew.

It was the intriguing one-liners that made the VW ads so, well, intriguing: “With 34 wives, even a king has to cut a few corners” and “Every new one comes slightly used” urging you to read on and find out more. The only own-goal in this marketing effort was perhaps the ad entitled “Will we ever kill the bug?”. The answer was ‘never’ – something not shared by the final ad: “Going, going…” which was, predictably, bidding farewell to Beetle production.

So, bring back creative advertising that isn’t banging on about someone called ‘Joy’ or telling me that I’m having a ‘mini adventure’ and I might even be tempted to buy something new.*

* That bit is obviously a lie.

Until that happens, which it won't, here are some more classic VW Ads for you to enjoy.


Simon Stokes

Absolutely brilliant, love all those ads. It's not the same today that's for sure, there isn't exactly a new Beetle, or a 2CV (fanastic adverts too), or a Moggy...... Perhaps I am missing out by not having a Beetle. I ride an aircooled (oil cooled anyway) BMW GS every day, so why not. I want one, I think....

Unfortunately there were multiple patent infringements of Hans Ledwinka of the Czechoslovakian car / truck company Tatra. He invented quite a few of the things VW were so proud of in those adverts. Still, there was a healthy payment made by VW in the sixties I think, 30+ years after.......

Martin Port

You are correct Simon. As I understand it, Ledwinka and Tatra filed against VW and Ferdinand Porsche was going to pay out when Adolf Hitler told him that he 'had a solution'. That solution comprised of a Nazi takeover of the Tatra factory in 1938(!), but in 1961 VW paid an out of court settlement anyway.

Art Editor, C&SC


Thanks for sharing those! I spent ages looking at them and it brought back a few memories!

Do you have the link to the MGB advert? You know, the 'your mother wouldn't like it' one with the nipples...


hahahaha :) lol that's brilliant, especially the first one!! great stuff. would love to see the MGB one Petrolhead is mentioning.

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