Volkswagen ads

I have recently been watching box sets of Mad Men – a TV series set in the early 1960s in an advertising office on Madison Avenue, New York. It’s beautifully stylish and the drama’s not bad either, but most of all, it has begun to make me appreciate advertisements a lot more.

The advertising company Doyle Dane Bernbach were the ones responsible for Volkswagen’s iconic campaigns of the 1950s and 1960s. William Bernbach had realised something very important early on in his career: advertising did not sell a product. The purpose of his VW ad campaigns was not to attract the customers who had already decided they were uninterested in buying Volkswagen, but to turn the existing clients into brand ambassadors.

The fact that in 1960, the German motor company’s budget for advertising was a mere $800,000 meant that DDB’s creative director Helmut Krone was required to pioneer the idea of simplicity in print media advertising – going very much against the grain of advertising at the time.  His repeated use of photographs as opposed to the embellished illustrations used traditionally by competing agencies, spawned comfortably-consistent, yet unique, print ads that met DDB’s goal of making a stark departure from existing advertisement techniques.

It soon transpired that Volkswagen advertisements had higher readership scores than the editorials in many publications.

I absolutely love the gender stereotyping in this one:



Filed under Ad Campaigns

96 responses to “Volkswagen ads

  1. Anne

    Love the Ted Kennedy one! It’s probably true too.

  2. Thank you so very much for posting this… Absolutely LOVE it!!

    Wish there was a way to “fav” individual posts on WordPress, would definitely favor this post.


  3. Thank you for the 50s flashback. Absolutely loved the ads. Personally, takes me back to the classroom lectures we got in advertising.
    In one word – classic!

  4. I restore old VW’s and I love the old ads. I have some hanging in my living room as wall art. People stand there and read them over and over again. Hehe. Here in AZ, VW’s are a cult. Literally. You don’t mess with a man and their VW’s!

  5. These cars are so clasica! Thanks for sharing!!!

  6. I love old advertisements. Gives you a good glimpse of the past.

  7. Ok, I thought describing a car as a “Lemon” was a bad thing? If so, is the Volkswagen to be thanked for that? What great ads; so glad they were thinking of those dangerous women behind the wheels! 🙂

    • ‘Lemon’ described the shape of the car as well as pointing out how fastidious the VW inspectors were. The copy reads: ‘This Volkswagen missed the boat. The chrome strip on the glove compartment is blemished, and must be replaced. Chances are you wouldn’t have noticed it; inspector Kurt Kromer did.

      They were essentially showing off!

  8. They’re such classic looking cars, my favourite without question is the combi-van. I’d love to have one some day, ironically so would my wife! Maybe when the kids are all grown up……..

  9. Wow, I love these… thanks for sharing

  10. I love VW ads, so I was really excited to see this blog! Love it. In fact, I think I may be a fan of the Irishman just for posting it. 🙂

  11. Holy cow, I’d never seen that Ted Kennedy one! I bought it too, didn’t realize it was a spoof. My wife and I put 210,000 miles on a 1999 Jetta and it’s still running. Uh oh, starting to sound like a brand ambassador.

  12. Simply awesome. And here I thought my generation was the first to master dry wit. Seems I was wrong. 😉

  13. I had a roommate in colleg who owned a 1985 Bug. The breaks worked about 50% of the time. I still shudder every time I see one.

  14. M

    i chose volkswagen as a case study for its various advertising strategies over the years and how they initially built their brand around these ads to present in class.
    truly one of the best ad campaigns ever, thanks for sharing them!

  15. Pingback: Volkswagen ads « lcarrmedia

  16. They don’t make ads like they used to! Great post and fantastic finds (the old ads). VW had spunk back then … wonder if they’ll ever get it back.

    Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

    Drive on,
    – M.

  17. My Dad was a VW technician and then service manager back in the days of these ads. I positively love them. It was great marketing. The old air-cooled VWs were a lot of fun (still miss my ’72 Super Beetle, but at the time getting away from my ex was more important than owning a classic car) but also a lot of work. The old Bugs were reliable to a point- but not the greatest car to have during Central Ohio winters. There was very little heat, the carburetors were difficult to keep adjusted, and you were always dealing with brake and electrical issues. I never saw the Ted Kennedy ad even in Dad’s massive collections of all things VW- that’s priceless!

  18. Liam Coonan

    Had “Bugsy” for almost 500,000 miles –until my daughter tried running without oil. The car let her down. So much for brand loyalty.

  19. Great .thanks for sharing

  20. My parents had one when I was really young and they had no money. They have stories about how every weekend they had to work on it. And of course the one big bolt that holds on the tire.

  21. Pingback: Volkswagen ads (via An Irishman Abroad) | Scepticemia

  22. What a trip down memory lane. Not only the ads – classic & pointed – but maximizing mobility and mechanical talents for 70’s teenagers, too. Thanks!

  23. And now! We are driving our 1967 VW Beetle in the World Race 2011, 14,000 miles west from NY City to Paris, France. Crossing three continents, the US, China, Kazakhstan, Russia, Lativia, Lithuania, Poland, Germany, Czech Republic, Switzerland and Farnce. Follow us on our blog
    Janet and Ed Howle

  24. They said it couldn’t be done…..!!! what a great ad!!!they don’t make them like that any more!!! great post “Away from home” Irishman:))

  25. Ah yes, brilliant and still today brand-loyalty goes a long, long way. Great photos with this blog piece as well. Thnx!

  26. I had a bug in College when I went to BYU. It was the best car for me at the time. The only thing I didn’t like about it was one winter I had to drive to SLC and got caught in a blizzard coming back to Provo. The heater barely worked and I almost slipped off the side of the road, but manged to drive home safely. In the long run it really was one of the best cars that I have owned.

  27. OMG@ that Ted Kennedy ad…LOL!! These are absolutely genius and so far ahead of their time. I remember an episode of Mad Men where they were commenting on the LEMON ad… (as being brilliant).

  28. Is the show mad men worth watching, i know its quite sexist which would annoy me but the time it was set in seems really cool, so I still think about watching it.

    Plus VWs are amazing, my dream is to have a VW van when i am older. One day just maybe I might own one. When ever I see one, it just makes me happy.


    • Mad Men isn’t sexist, it portrays a time when sexism as we know it now was a perfectly acceptable ingredient of everyday life, much like casual racism and homophobia, that’s what makes it so interesting to watch. I would say, take a look – it’s won Emmys so it can’t be that bad!

  29. It saddens all 6’3″ of me that the cheapest car of the day had more headroom than we’re accustomed to getting nowadays in all kinds of vehicles. I don’t think Chamberlain could get more than one leg into my Hyundai!

  30. wobahs


  31. Thanks for sharing this, some of those ads belong to a museum!

    I see some resemblance in the early advertising of Mini in the U.S. (when the new Mini was introduced): irreverent and fun.

    There are a couple of this ads that wouldn’t make it out the ad agency/auto brand door this days though!

  32. eternallyemo

    Classic ads: another reason why magazines are awesome.

    Thanks for posting this, and congrats on Freshly Pressed!

  33. Nice! I just finished an essay on the “live below your means” one for school. never realized there were so many others like it! thx for posting

  34. Great ads! I’ve always loved VW’s. I have an 88 Jetta and it’s pretty amazing! But I’ve always loved seeing those beetles around town! They’re beautiful cars

  35. Your insight about “Mad Men” profiling the advertising industry during the rise of television’s medium is illuminating.
    In addition to featuring related television ads created for Volkswagen, the legendary David Ogilvy highlights this same campaign as one of his fascinating case studies in “Ogilvy on Advertising.”
    Thank you for taking time to share print ads Ogilvy omits from a coffee-table book that tries to cover his entire career.
    Ronald Grey

  36. very cool ads. VW has a very nice marketing department

  37. Thought evoking ads for a simple-looking car. Excellent campaign. Still fresh. 🙂

  38. We used to own a VW Bug with an Oval shaped rear window in Costa Rica…I miss that bug!

  39. Strangely enough, my sister was watching old VW TV ads on youtube last night. I caught a few of them and the look is very similar to their print ads.

  40. Best two Volkswagen ever!!

  41. I’m way too young to remember any of those VW advertising campaigns, but thanks to you I can now enjoy them. Thanks for sharing.



  42. Pingback: Volkswagen ads (via An Irishman Abroad) « Latitud N

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  44. Love it! My first car was a ’64 beetle convertible, with a ’66 engine in it. By the time it finally died there were holes in the floorboards from the rust, making it a “Fred Flintstone” pedal car! Chicago isn’t the place for old vee-dubs. I had to scrape the ice off the inside of the windshield many times. And it’s also probably why my feet are still always freezing cold! I remember a tv ad that had the world’s tallest man driving a bug. He had to remove the front seat and sit in the back to drive it. Thanks for the memories!

  45. Pingback: Volkswagen ads (via An Irishman Abroad) | Ricardo Trevisan

  46. I’ve been meaning to get to watching Mad Men for a while now it just never really happened what with work. But this makes me look forward to it even more! Those ads are awesome! I’ve always been a fan of the VW Bug. I remember when I was younger and went on road trips and we used to keep our eyes out for any VWs and play that punch buggy game! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  47. Stephen Hatamosa

    Love your post! The Beetle really is one of a kind. Larger images would have been great though..

  48. parcelpanic

    thanks for sharing!
    born british in germany i had to drive one of those, sooner or later. believe me: if you like lying under your car, get one! otherwise take on from asia!

    regards from good old Germany!

  49. V Talley

    Great ads!

  50. Pingback: Poor Ted « Hyperbolic Chamber

  51. busyman1918

    I love Mad Men and can’t wait for season 5 come out. The VW are indeed cery iconic in fact the other day I watched an episode of Top Gear where there job was to make a new car commercial for the VW Sirrocco guess they only have that in Europe but as you can imagine it turned out to be a disaster but VW has done a great job in their marketing but not enough for me to buy one lol congrats on being freshly pressed

  52. wonderful seeing on that one.

  53. why you didn’t let me response!

  54. What great ads, reflective of another time. Thanks for sharing and congrats on being freshly pressed!

  55. Pingback: Volkswagen ads (via An Irishman Abroad) | The Calculable

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  57. as a proud owner of a VW, i must say that their advertising is quite genius. I never imagined that I would ever own one, but one of the most iconic images I remember most were the big VW Bug conventions back in my home country of Jamaica. You would see about 40 lined up on the side of Patrick City Road at the foot of the Red Hills…every color and I never understood what the big deal was at the time. Obviously, a cult following had been created and I can only imagine that these ads must’ve contributed to that kind of movement in some way shape or form.

  58. Superb………………….

  59. joyce yorkevich

    used to have a Volkswagon van & i like it

  60. nice… sharing..
    unforgettable cars…

  61. Great post — I really like the simple effectiveness of these ads. They grab my attention with simple photos and headlines that make me want to read the smaller text copy. And the simplicity reminds me of Apple ads… maybe these VW ads were an inspiration to the ad agency handling Apple products?

  62. Thanks for sharing,interesting x

  63. singlestrokechime

    The ads are so nice. I like the “bread” van.

  64. That was great…haven’t ever seen some of those!

  65. I enjoy the one about wives being likely to damage cars. Very stereotypical but clever tactic given the women drivers suck saying.

  66. Is there anyone in this world who didn’t own a bug? My first was a 59 Bug, then a 62 KG, then a 72 Scirocco, then I went American.
    I froze my ass in the 59, so I put a gas heater in the 62 a week after I bought it new. The 72 had a water cooled engine and a great heater.

  67. slyruth

    Owing a volkswagen probably you already know all of the things that make this particular model year unique. From the 1300 engine to the slotted wheels to assist in brake cooling, there were a number of changes that set this year apart from the rest. There is a real passion around this model year.

  68. Pingback: ARE YOU BUGGIN? « memorablequote

  69. When I grew up, we had a red 59, a white 68, and a baby blue 74. All of my best friends had bugs (we called’em bugs). I miss them all. The friends, too.
    Thanks for taking us back!

  70. Such fab work. Talk about confidence in your product. Great post

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  73. It’s my dream to own a beetle and a bus one day. I saw a red VW bus today while I was walking and nearly chased it down!

  74. your college did not teach a lot of english, spelling etc. I stll shudder when I see “breaks”…..wonder what they tought….

  75. They’re such classic looking cars, my favourite without question is the combi-van. I’d love to have one some day, ironically so would my wife! Maybe when the kids are all grown up……..

  76. Pingback: #11: Volkswagen « Emily Jaffe

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  79. SFV Spiff

    The day Neil Armstrong landed on the Moon. Volkswagen brought out their lastest Ad. Pictured is the Lunar Landing Modual. Below the caption, was the tag line “It’s ugly, but it gets you there”. Forty-three years later I still laugh when I think of it.

  80. Alain Fletcher

    If you want to know more about the MadMan who did these ads read the book about him: Helmut Krone. The book. (Listed at & But best deal at

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