It was hard to let her go, but the time had come. That ’69 VW Bug served us well for a few years, but we are not mechanics, so we reluctantly passed her along to a more qualified caretaker. When we bought her from a neighbor she was already decades old, but with VW Beetles, older has always been cooler.
How did such a funny looking little car become such a durable icon for the baby boomer generation? It started in the early ’60s with the now legendary “Think Small” campaign that turned automotive advertising on its head and unleashed a flood of Bugs on the American landscape.
A more unlikely success story would be hard to come by. Designed by Nazi engineers and overseen by Hitler himself, the Volkswagen, or “people’s car,” promised to bring the convenience of auto travel to the postwar German everyman. Tasked with erasing the Nazi stigma, the New York advertising firm, Doyle Dane Bernbach (DDB), came up with the “VW” tag, much easier to say and way less Germanic and foreign-sounding than “Volkswagen.”
But it was the agency’s ingenious and disruptive combination of white space and dry copy that really distinguished the VW Beetle in a cluttered sea of Detroit-made, tail-finned, gas guzzlers. Here’s a mini-documentary that tells the story of this amazing ad campaign. It’s a tale to inspire any designer or content creator, and a testament to the power of thinking small.