I recently designed and art directed a campaign microsite for the launch of the beautiful new
Mercedes-Benz M-Class. During the early conception, as with any project, we brainstormed and bounced ideas around the room. The tag line for the new M-Class is ‘Big on power, Small on fuel’ which led me back to something which I (and 99.99% of people in design and advertising) revere as one of the best ads of all time. The 1962 Volkswagen “Think Small” campaign by Doyle Dane Bernbach (DDB).

VW had plenty of success in the European markets during the 60’s with the Beetle, but America was always going to be a hard nut for them to crack. They had a car that in principle went against everything the American consumer wanted at the time. The U.S was in a ‘Baby Boom’ era, and (as is still the case today) was very much in love with big vehicles and muscle cars.

Another issue for DDB was the fact that the vehicle was manufactured in Wolfsburg, Germany, at a plant built by the Nazis. There was still a lot of post-war tension between the U.S and Germany, so DDB had its work cut out to convince the U.S consumer that the Beetle was the right choice of automobile.

DDB’s radical approach of using wit, coupled with emotive and informative facts about fuel consumption and running costs helped connect with consumers on a more emotional level.

This was pretty much unheard of at the time. Fans of TV’s Mad Men will be aware of the approach taken by American advertisers in the late 50s and early 60s where they gave consumers traditional gender stereotypes, aspirations of the American dream and of course the odd pin-up girl on a bonnet.

Quite apart from the design of the ad, which encompasses elegance and simplicity in its purest form. It is the ground-breaking approach, wit and subtle connotations that are carried in the visual language and supporting copy that makes this ad a real trail-blazer.

So going back to my earlier reference about the brainstorming of the new M-Class campaign site, using one of the most influential ads of the 20th Century…well it doesn’t seem like a bad place for me to start for inspiration. Thank you Helmut Krone, Julian Koenig and DDB.

 

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