1965 Volkswagen Beetle

Volkswagen Beetle advertising seldom took itself seriously, a nice link to a car that invited pranks like this in which college students pack a 1965 Bug.

2007 Publications International, Ltd

1960s Volkswagen Beetle Advertising

America loved 1960s Volkswagen Beetle advertising, and with good reason. In an age of blustery pitches glorifying size, power, and prestige, 1960s Volkswagen Beetle advertising was the calm voice for a different set of values. Plus, it made you smile. The understated style was introduced in 1959 by New York ad agency Doyle Dane Bernbach.

In a sea of hard sell, Volkswagen appeals were islands of refreshing wit that extolled its products' virtues with breezy self-effacement. "Live Below Your Means," advised one ad. "Think Small," counseled another.

One ad didn't even bother with pictures. "No point in showing you the 1962 Volkswagen," read the headline. "It still looks the same." One ad portrayed a Beetle above the word "Lemon," explaining how Wolfsburg inspectors rejected the entire car because of one blemished chrome strip on the dash.

You couldn't help but love a company willing to kid itself in public, and no one responded more to the Beetle or its advertising than America's vaunted "baby boomers." As these children of postwar affluence came of age in the 1960s, they embraced Volkswagens as a way to show rejection of what they saw as the materialism of older generations. Besides, Volkswagens were cheap to buy and run, and they were easily fixed.

Most of these kids probably didn't realize the Beetle was born of war, but it didn't matter. They were too busy decorating the cars with flowers, "peace symbols," and psychedelic colors. Free-living hippies became especially fond of the roomy Beetle-based Microbus because it was so easily turned into a rolling bedroom.

Yet even as "Beetlemania" continued across the land, a threat was on the horizon, and it wasn't coming from Europe or Detroit. Though Volkswagen increased sales throughout the 1960s to remain America's top-selling foreign make, its share of the import-car market withered from 67 percent in 1965 to a less commanding 51 percent by decade's end.

In other words, small-car demand was still rising, but the Beetle no longer drove it. Who was? Two little-known companies called Toyota and Datsun, then starting to sell high-quality small cars with performance, room, comfort, features, and even style that put the Beetle in the shade -- and for no more money.

Suddenly, the Beetle looked very old. It still had charm, yet everyone -- Wolfsburg included -- knew that it could no longer be relied upon to guarantee Volkswagen's continued good health. After decades of unbridled success, the Beetle was running out of time.

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