Volkswagen Think Small - A Great Ad Campaign of the 20th Century

Posted in Marketing & Strategy Articles, Total Reads: 1848 , Published on 27 December 2014

Think small was a advertising campaign for the Volkswagen, Beetle.It was created by the legendary advertising group at Doyle Dane and Bernach in 1960.Many marketing professional call this print advertisement as “the golden standard”. According to The Advertising Age, this was the No.1 ad in 20th century.


The Volkswagen which in German means “People car”, was a assurance by Adolf Hitler to the Germans for getting their goodwill in 1930s. Before Hitler’s era, German was suffering the effects of The Great Depression. The situation was awful, every industry was suffering. The situation was such that the price of a car was more than the annual earnings of the people. Cars were a sign of royalty and luxury. So to gain popularity after he became the Chancellor in 1933, he announced the idea of making a car which would be small and could be affordable for common people. For this Hitler met the automotive designer Ferdinand Porsche and in this way Porsche designed Volkswagen was born.

After WW2 United States had become a Superpower. America was geared to achieve heights in economy. Cars began to be built for the growing economy and growing families with Baby Boomer children. Americans were fascinated with muscle cars. Big cars were a symbol of achievement. So the ongoing trend for car advertisements were to show proud owners, happiness and pride oozing from the car owners ,etc.The ads were visually very colorful and gave the message that it could bring colors and pride to your life .Most of them had the inherent message-‘This is the American dream-Live it’.


In the age of big muscle cars Beetle was a two door, four passenger economy car. This was a complete paradox to the mentality of the US people at that time. There were no sales as it did not provide the esteem that, they associated cars with. So, Volkswagen had to come up with something different that changed people’s perception about ‘small things’.

The Ad:

Volkswagen “Think small” ad had lots of white spaces, the car advertised was a miniscule, and worst part was everything was black and white. There were no punchlines,and the headlines lacked value content. A reader while flipping through magazines or newspapers filled with colorful content would stop suddenly when he finds a page which is nearly blank baring a miniscule car image. The ads were brilliantly made such that it would pop out from the magazines and newspapers and differentiated itself from the other me too cars of that time.

It played right into the expectations of the people by portraying itself what it really is. It advertised itself as a small car and brought forward the advantages of being a small car. This gives us the idea that we should always advertise what we really are and not what people expect from us. Consumers appreciate honesty and truthfulness.

This article has been authored by Devidutta Parhi from IMT Ghaziabad


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