All The Great Mad Men Era Volkswagen Ads

Consider this the best advertising course you’ll ever take. 50 ads in chronological order, more or less.

How to advertise a challenger brand, 101.

Above are the two main ads that launched the Volkswagen brand in America.
“Lemon” ad copy starts: “This Volkswagen missed the boat. The chrome strip on the glove compartment is blemished, and must be replaced.”

It was shocking, to say the least, for an auto brand to call their car a lemon.
What made the ad even more appealing than the shock value, was that the Bug was in fact (and still is) shaped like a lemon.

To say “Think Small” with regard to autos in 1960 was revolutionary.
Most American car ads from the era looked exactly like this.
Bigger was better, the bigger the better.

But Volkswagen never shied away from this startling, risky strategy.
This worked out pretty damn well for them.

VW’s ad agency was Doyle Dane Bernbach, with the great Bill Bernbach leading the creative department.

There are about 200 or so 1960s VW ads available online.
I picked my 50 favorites (with a couple of early 1970s executions).


10. A 1963 ad that flat-out challenged you to not read the copy.

Via copyranter’s collection

13. Great layout.


15. A great car company takes care of its dealers, too.


A brilliant dealer ad, 1964.


1964 ad. Not Photoshopped.


Just a brilliant ad from 1965.

23. Still true today.

24. Fact: The old Bug was nearly airtight.

25. When dropped into a lake, it would float and bob for several minutes, before sinking.

26. The count was exactly 1,612,462 beans.

Via copyranter’s collection
Via copyranter’s collection

That’s not MS paint, just paint.

Via copyranter’s collection

“…The Volkswagen is 4 feet shorter than standard wagons, but only 9 inches longer than the Volkswagen Sedan. It parks like a little sports car. Yet inside, you can carry more stuff than any wagon made…”


31. 1966 ad, one of the smartest car ads I’ve ever seen.

32. 1966 ad that is now coming true.


In 1966, VW used Wilt the Stilt as anti-spokesman.
But read the copy, and you find out that if you’re 6-7, you’re good.


1967 ad.
Copy: “We’ve been making the same basic VW for so long now, you’d think we’d be bored with the whole thing.
But the fact is, we’re still learning.”

The VW copy conversed with you. It didn’t talk down to you, or treat you like an idiot.


38. Selling your car without showing your car just wasn’t done in the 1960s.

Via copyranter’s collection

They called their car a lemon.
And they called it ugly.

40. True story.

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1968 ad.


46. One of the best print ads ever.

Via copyranter’s collection

This ad ran in Life magazine on August 8th of 1969, just two weeks after the astronauts returned safely to Earth. The ad agency obviously had it in the can, ready to run, and probably sent film of it and a back-up ad to Life, just in case.

47. Ad VW ran capitalizing on the 1969 movie The Love Bug.


1970 Karmann Ghia ad.
Still DDB.

49. Brilliant true story testimonial ad from 1971.

Via copyranter’s collection

50. An ad that would of course be banned to oblivion today.

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