VW advertising’s lessons for the coming awards season

It may be the dog days of an extended winter in the UK but the awards season will soon be upon us, without some of its recent stand-bys such as adam&eveDDB’s work for Harvey Nichols.

This scored mightily – six Cannes Grand Prix – chiefly through its simplicity, never a bad idea for an international jury.

The agency that wrote the book on simplicity was Doyle Dane Bernbach in New York in the 1960s and its most famous account was Volkswagen (still with DDB). Then VW was the Beetle, now it’s Golfs and Passats not to mention Audi, Porsche and even Bugatti.

The Beetle was designed by Ferdinand Porsche as a ‘people’s car,’ a notion enthusiastically adopted by Hitler (although Hitler preferred open top Mercedes chariots, at least until people wanted to shoot him).

It was therefore a controversial challenge for Jewish Bill Bernbach and many of his colleagues. In the film here George Lois, who they rashly sent on a factory visit to Germany, tells how he returned and told Bernbach he’d cracked the marketing problem. “How do you sell Nazi cars in a Jewish town?”

Lots of other brilliant bits besides, from DDB’s Helmut Krone and Julian Koenig to John Hegarty and Alan Parker.

If time’s short Alfredo Marcantonio, who was a VW client before he became an adman, picks this one. Not as famous or ‘Snowplough’ or ‘Funeral’ (both also above): ‘Mr Jones and Mr Kremper.’ Who said price ads have to be boring?

Will there be anything remotely as good at Cannes or D&AD or the other big international shows?

Alan Parker says that ‘Snowplough’ was the best ad up to that point and he doubts there’s been anything better since.

Does that mean that today’s creatives should give up? Of course not, but, as with politicians, a little history can be a useful way of informing (and maybe improving) the present day.

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