The Volkswagen campaign was so translucent and timeless that it continues to this day in another iteration for another agency (Arnold Advertising) for the new Beetle, ads that look as striking today in the pages of Vanity Fair and George as they did 40 years ago in Life and Look.
DDB's little yellow book of classic VW print ads (many reproduced here) is the advertising equivalent of a volume of The New Yorker cartoons, a procession of small but penetrating insights, each of which takes a bite out of the pomposity of traditional automobive advertising.
As with most great precedent-setting work, the campaign was launched bathed in an aura of doubt and uncertainty. It is natural to distrust what is new. In the case of Volkswagen, no one distrusted it more than its principal author, that personification of Prussian perfection, Helmut Krone. The reason he was assigned to the account in 1959 was because he was the only one at DDB who had heard of the car, let alone actually owned one.
"And just to show you how wrong a person can be," he told Sandra Karl of DDB in a 1968 oral history interview, "I was dead set against the Volkswagen campaign as we did it. I felt the thing to do with this ugly little car was make it as American as possible. Like, let's get Dinah Shore. What's that thing she used to sing? `See the USA in your Chevrolet'? I wanted to `See the USA in your Volkswagen' with models around the car and TV extravaganzas."
Mr. Krone was so opposed to the unconventional approach that as soon as he finished the first three VW ads, with their lean sans-serif type, he ran off, totally depressed, to St. Thomas to forget about the work. Two weeks later he returned to New York to find that he bad become a star.
Actually, Mr. Krone could only lay claim to one-third of the work. Another third belonged to writer Julian Koenig. And the critical third belonged of course to William Bernbach, who kept the other two from going the Dinah Shore route.
"The whole concept of speaking simply, clearly and with charm belongs to him," Mr. Krone said. "There was nothing new about the Volkswagen idea; the only thing was, we applied it to a car. Probably eight years before that, Bernbach did an ad for Fairmont strawberries, where he showed a whole strawberry in the middle of a big page -- just one lifesized strawberry."