Think Small: Iconic Volkswagen Beetle Ads

Not every car brand has the opportunity of producing an icon. When you mention Mini, Fiat, or DeLorean, there is an instant image of their iconic models. The most iconic of them all is the Volkswagen Beetle. The world has fallen in love with the Beetle even during a time when it wasn’t popular to be buying German. 2019 sees the last of the Beetle name plates roll off the production line and to celebrate its great history, we’ll look back at its most iconic ads.

Quick History

For those who have been living under a rock, the famous “Bug” or Beetle is a car produced by German auto manufacturer Volkswagen. The conceptualization of the Beetle came as Adolf Hitler wanted to make a car for the people that was cheap to buy and maintain. He called in race car designer Ferdinand Porsche to develop this vehicle. It was 1934 when Porsche started to design the Volkswagen. Development was finalized as the “Type 1” in 1938, with the first few cars going to high ranking officials and the first convertible version going to Adolf Hitler himself. By the end of the war, the factory producing Type 1s found itself in British occupied Germany. The factory stayed open and produced Type 1s for the British forces staying in Germany. It wasn’t until the late 1940s when these cars were mass produced and offered to the public. It saw the shores of the United States in 1949 as the Beetle where it surprisingly became a hit. The international sales boom saw the 1-millionth Volkswagen Beetle come of the assembly line in 1955.

The Volkswagen Beetle nameplate is the most manufactured car in history and no other vehicle comes near its record.

By the 1970s the Beetle craze slowed with Volkswagen shifting production to Brazil and Mexico in 1978. The U.S. markets ceased sales in July 1977 and the European market followed in 1985. Gray market importers continued to sell Mexico Beetles in Europe after 1985. The last Cabriolet Beetle left the production line in January 31, 1980 and the Type 1 Beetle sedan continued production until 2003.The original Type 1 Volkswagen Beetle reached 21.5-million produced units at the end of its 65-year life.

Before the original Type 1 Beetle ceased production, the VW Group breathed life into the Beetle name badge with the Volkswagen “New” Beetle in 1998. This gave a younger generation the chance to live out the Volkswagen Beetle nostalgia. The New Beetle saw two generations during its production life. After 21-years of production the last U.S. models rolled off the production line in July 2019.

The Volkswagen Beetle nameplate is the most manufactured car in history. This beat out the Model T early in its life and no other car comes near its record.

The Famous Volkswagen Beetle Ads

Cars in America during the 1940s were larger than life. Sedans would have 138-inch wheelbases on average and were typically equipped with a V8 engine. When the Beetle reached the United States it was equipped with a small 25-horsepower engine with an equally small overall package. It came as a huge surprise that the smaller Volkswagen could go toe to toe with American car companies. The Beetle was not an overnight sensation. It also attributes its success to the quirky Volkswagen ads.

People from the ad industry positioned the Volkswagen Beetle as the small, underpowered, and cheap underdog compared to famous American car brands.

Much like the Beetle, its advertisements were disruptors in the advertising industry. Ad men used the unique position of the Volkswagen Beetle as the small, underpowered, and cheap underdog compared to the established American car brands. They found humor in their situation and made fun of themselves. With a budget of only $800,000 for marketing, Volkswagen hired the Doyle Dane Bernbach (DDB) advertising firm. Together they revolutionized the automotive and advertising industries. Here is a selection of their most iconic ads:

Think Small

According to a 1999 special report by AdAge Volkswagen’s “Think Small” ranks number one in the Top 100 Advertising Campaigns. It shook the advertising world by not featuring the vehicle in the whole page. This was also a stab at the 1960s “bigger was better” automotive revolution.



It came as a shock that an ad called their car a “lemon,” or a faulty vehicle. The wit of DDB made sure that America knew they were getting the best quality of cars with the copywrite, “This Volkswagen missed the boat because of a blemish on the glove compartment.”


You don’t have to replace half the car

The beetle was easy to maintain and cheap to keep on the road with plenty of parts to come by. DDB went off to prove this point by telling readers that it is possible to replace just the parts you needed. According to the ad, it only takes 10 bolts to replace the smashed fender. They even go to the extent of telling readers that it only takes 90-minutes to replace the whole engine.


The Volkswagen Theory of Evolution

Poking fun at themselves in this ad shows just how the Beetle did not change from 1949 until 1963. It bluntly states “The reason you can’t see any revolutionary design changes on our car is simple, there aren’t any.” They go on to say that they wouldn’t change the Beetle just for the sake of changing it but would rather wait for something that will make it better.


It’s ugly, but it gets you there

America gathered around their TV sets on July 20th, 1969 to watch the first man walk on the moon. Volkswagen on the other hand was busy creating an ad making fun of the styling of their Beetle. A simple yet clear message of the no-nonsense approach Volkswagen had to cars.


They said it couldn’t be done. It couldn’t.

NBA player, Wilt Chamberlain of the Philadelphia 76er’s stands next to the Volkswagen clearly dwarfing the vehicle. DDB took to humor again saying, “So if you’re 7’1” tall like Wilt, our car is not for you. But if you’re a mere 6’7”, you’re small enough to appreciate what a big thing we’ve made of the VW.” They go on to say even if it’s small, you can still fit suitcases, and pinch 29 miles per gallon out of the Beetle.


Author: JC Whitney

JC Whitney is the largest and oldest catalog and Internet direct-to-consumer auto parts and accessories retailer in America. Since 1915, JC Whitney has been filling the needs of customers by providing the right part at the best price. You can always shop with confidence at

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