One of the most famous advertising campaigns to embody this simplicity and irony was that of Doyle Dane Bernbach. To promote Volkswagen’s Beetle, they capitalized on negative perceptions with headlines like “Think Small” and “Lemon”, turning the negatives into a positive with some of the most brilliant ad copy ever written.
“Think Small” for the Volkswagen Beetle was created by Copywriter Julian Koenig and Art Director Helmut Krone under the supervision of Creative Director Bill Bernbach at the New York ad agency Doyle Dane Bernbach (DDB) in 1959.
This revolutionary work and the agency behind it, did more than boost sales and build brand loyalty for VW, it changed the very nature of advertising. It was ranked as the best campaign of the twentieth century by Ad Age in 1999.
15 years after WW2, the United States had become a world consumer superpower. The Beetle - a compact, strange-looking car manufactured in a plant built by the Nazis in Wolfsburg, Germany- was a challenge to sell to Americans obsessed with muscle cars. Automobile ads of the period were typically rooted in fantasy than in reality and provided as much information as possible instead of persuading the reader to purchase.
Bernbach, Krone and Koenig, were impressed with the “honesty” of the car and built an innovative campaign that focused on the Beetle’s small form, rejecting the traditional association with luxury.
DDB's strategy was to nurture customers as brand ambassadors, rather than attempting to attract the attention of those who were uninterested in the product. The agency’s bare-bones, black-and-white approach coupled with consistently witty and irreverent copy listing the advantages of ownership, were a stark departure from existing techniques and a great solution to Volkswagen’s 1960 modest advertising budget of $800,000.
Julian Koenig was born into a New York City family of lawyers and judges. Before finishing law school he dropped out to write a novel and later found his way into advertising. He served four years in the USAAF during WWII.
Renowned copywriter Jerry Della Femina once wrote of him: “There was a period when it seemed that Julian Koenig was the copywriter on every great ad that was ever written. I spent my first five years in this business trying to emulate Mr. Koenig. I wasn’t alone.”
In addition to originating many famous advertising campaigns, Mr.Koenig also coined the name “Earth Day” as it occurred on his birthday, April 22.
He had volunteered his help to Senator Nelson's 1969 committee and sent them a set concepts for a newspaper ad to announce the campaign for a modern environmental movement; offering a bunch of possible names but making it clear they would be idiots if they didn’t choose “Earth Day”!
A brilliant writer who thought big, Julian Koenig died in Manhattan on June 12, 2014
“Lemon” created for Volkswagen by writer Julian Koenig and Art Director Helmut Krone at DDB in 1959 followed the success of “Think small”.
Helmut Krone (who owned a beetle before the agency won the account) took an intellectual approach. He laid out the ads to emphasise the Beetle’s simplicity and minimalism.
Krone didn’t believe in logos, and there is some evidence that their inclusion followed a disagreement with the client.
Research at the time showed these Volkswagen ads had higher reader scores than editorial pieces in many publications.
Krone was born in Manhattan and enrolled at the School of Industrial Art where he hoped to become a product designer. When he was 21, he took his first step towards advertising, freelancing for magazines. He followed naval service in World War II with postwar classes with Alexy Brodovitch and stints at Esquire before joining DDB at 29, as one of four Art Directors.
Krone defined modern art direction- shaping the two most important ad campaigns ever for Volkswagen and 'We try harder’ for Avis.
His work has been collected by the MOMA and the Smithsonian.
As Bob Gage, DDB’s first Art DIrector once summarised:
“Amongst Art Directors there’s Helmut Krone, and then there’s everyone else.”