VW Advertising in the Seventies: From Classic DDB to a New Direction

The advertising firm of Doyle Dane Bernbach was responsible for one of Volkswagen of America’s most memorable advertising campaigns. Starting in the late 1950s and continuing at least through the mid-1970s, they were very unique and clever, so much so that VW has brought this advertising style back several times. I re-discovered the following ads while going through vintage ads I collected from a bunch of Time magazines twenty years ago. Enjoy!

Naturally, most of the early ads were for the ubiquitous Beetle, but as new models were added, they were given the same treatment.

By 1971, you could get your Volkswagen in small, medium and large. Personally, I would have gone with the Squareback.

Also in 1971, Volkswagen attempted to move more upmarket with the 411. It was available in a four-door sedan and two-door wagon, and was the last rear-engined Volkswagen model.

Bigger and more plush than the Type 3 Fastback and Squareback, it was hoped that people used to a larger car would be interested. They weren’t and the 411 and subsequent 412 were also-rans. They would be gone after 1974.

By the early Seventies, the Type 3 was showing its age a bit, but was still much more modern than the Beetle. As was mentioned in the VW Notchback post, the Type 3 was available in a two-door sedan, two-door fastback and two-door wagon (Squareback), but the Notchback was not officially imported to the United States.

Although the Type 3 was intended to replace the Beetle, that didn’t happen, and they were discontinued after the 1973 model year. Ironically, the Beetle outlasted the Type 3 by about thirty years, when the last Mexican Beetle was produced.

The clever advertising couldn’t help the fact that by the early ’70s the Beetle was getting long in the tooth. New, efficient cars from Japan like the Datsun 510 and Toyota Corolla and Corona were making the Beetle look awfully dated.

The Beetle was still available, and would remain so through 1977 for the sedan and 1979 for the cabriolet. But Volkswagen knew they had to come up with some new products, and they did, with the Golf/Rabbit and Scirocco.

Along with the forward-mounted, water-cooled engine and front wheel drive came a new direction in advertising. I am not sure if these were still done by Doyle Dane Bernbach or another firm, but they did not resemble the previous ads at all. However, the new Rabbits and Sciroccos were a great success and pulled VW’s bacon out of the fire.

The ‘classic’ style ads remained for some models, though, as this one for the ’76 Transporter shown below proves. The VW may have been the practical choice, as long as you didn’t have to pull a boat.

Volkswagen started the ’70s with an air-cooled, rear engined lineup and closed out the decade with a water-cooled, front engined lineup (save the Transporter and the Beetle cabriolet, in its last year). As the times changed, so did the advertising. All things change eventually, but no one can dispute that DDB created some classic advertising.