Just how outrageous were the Volkswagen adverts of the 60s?

In an era of big cars that all looked the same, the VW Beetle and Station Wagon stuck out like a pair of sore thumbs. The German manufacturers didn’t run away from this, instead, they flaunted it by bragging how tiny, ugly and cheap their cars are. You’re probably thinking this doesn’t sound like good advertising at all, but VW new exactly what they were doing. Here are some of the greatest shock value ads run by VW in the 60s.

VW making fun of how small the Beetle was

One of the best, most ludicrous adverts for the Beetle was the one featuring Wilt “the stilt” Chamberlain, a celebrated American basketball player. Ran in print and TV form, the advert basically said that the car is too small to fit someone that is 7 ft 1 in tall. Not unusual or anything to be ashamed of, but why would you bother to advertise what your car can’t do?

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American car manufacturers of the 60s would consider it unthinkable to market a car as “small” or “tiny” due to the “bigger is better” attitude of consumers at the time.

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VW calling their cars ugly

Calling your product small is one thing, but calling it ugly could be seen as a step too far. Were the marketing team mad?

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VW saying how slow the Beetle is

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VW making a joke of their lack of design changes

Another popular theme of their self-deprecating jokes is the lack of innovation in the Beetle from the late 50s to the 70s.

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Lack of innovation is normally something a car company would like to hide. VW, on the other hand, seemed to brag about it. Just one of the many negative things that they managed to spin up into a great marketing campaign.

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Were these shock-tactic ads successful?

Despite VW trying their best to make a joke of the Beetles, they still sold fairly well. Thanks to their practicality (small, cheap to buy, cheap parts, great mpg) and unique style, they were very popular and were America’s top-selling foreign brand throughout the 50s and 60s. It wasn’t until the late 60s that VW began to have some fierce competition from Toyota.

These ads may have successfully made many Americans turn their nose up at the thought of owning an ugly, cheap, foreign car such as the Beetle, but at the same time, it got even more people to buy one. The adverts served their purpose, which was to get people talking. It didn’t take long for the Beetle to be a household name they every American knew.

Furthermore, we’ve only shown you the negative ads, but there were plenty of positive ones as well, promoting the car’s reliability and low cost. But an ad that calls its own car ugly is always more entertaining than one that boasts how great it is!

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One Response

  1. John Mohn

    I would like to use an image of the Volkswagen in the ad, “Lemon.” How can I find the owner of the copyright image, if there is one?

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