The Truth About Ads Part 4 [Copywriting Guides]

Here’s an heroic ad today with a brand that turned from hero to villain almost overnight.

In the 1950’s Volkswagen employed a new advertising agency who believed in simplicity.

Their first campaign used the slogan “think small” (whilst the whole US auto industry was ‘thinking big’, they twisted it round and made Volkswagen stand out).

The agency also believed that advertising was NOT for selling, but for creating desire (the big idea being that if the marketing was right, the selling would take care of itself).

It worked (Volkswagen increased market share).

In 1960 they produced the famous “Lemon” ad for Volkswagen with the slogan “We pluck the lemons, you get the plums.” – stating that any Volkswagen that isn’t perfect is scrapped (with reliability issues for other manufacturers at the time, this was another bold move – no one wants a ‘lemon’).

The ad used an untouched black and white photo of the VW Beetle (“no need to touch up perfection”). And again it worked and market share rose.

But in 2015, as we all know, Volkswagen breached emission regulations in the USA and the brand became stock market toxic (losing well over half its value).

In 2019 they released a new ad using the same formula as the 1960 ad, only this time the single word headline was LIME. Placed once again under a black and white photo of the final Beetle ever to be made.

Here’s the first couple of paragraphs of the copy under the headline:


“This Volkswagen missed the boat again.

If you think there is a problem, you’re wrong.

The chrome strip on the glove compartment, interior design… Everything is OK. This time a completely perfect iconic model, down to the last detail!

But Kurt Kroner’s grandchildren have rejected it just the same way as 60 years ago.”


What’s all that about then? No one remembers what happened 60 years ago, so now we need to know.

The difference between the Volkswagen ads and the previous ones in The Truth About Ads series is there is no promise of anything. It’s just a story (but a true one).

Volkswagen still uses the same strategy today as they did all those years ago. Don’t sell, just make people love your brand. Is it working? Well, the share price is going back up again despite the emissions problem and Covid-19.

If you need proof that over-promising is the only way when it comes to copy, think again. There are other ways copy can win without hype or lies.

Got another villain for you in part 5. Stay safe.



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