Magazine article Management Today

Motor Mouth No Immunity to the Bug

Magazine article Management Today

Motor Mouth No Immunity to the Bug

Article excerpt

A classic book on Doyle Dane Bernbach's pioneering campaigns of the '50s and '60s that mixed knowing irony with clear-cut art direction and helped establish VW as a quality brand was entitled Remember Those Great Volkswagen Ads. Now we can recall those great Volkswagens themselves, thanks to an ironical revival of the Beetle.

The first Volkswagens were exported to the US in 1953, a sort of expeditionary force of what was going to become the Wirtschaftswunder. Americans cracked up, slapped their knees and hooted at the sight of this ludicrous little car. The entire Volkswagen engine was not sufficiently powerful to drive the air conditioning unit of a native swank tank, yet word of mouth did what word of mouth does and soon the car's unburstability, economy, integrity and toughness made it America's favourite second-hand car and the first choice of spliff-toting Californiacs.

There's not much in business more interesting than the Volkswagen case study. Built to an original design of Ferdinand Porsche, the original Beetle suggested itself to Hitler as a better means of mobilising his hitherto stationary Volk than motorbikes, and snappily christened it the Kraft durch Freude-Wagen (the Strength-Through-Joy car]. After the war, Ford, among others, had the opportunity to acquire the rights to produce the Volkswagen but saw no future in it. The Beetle was saved for the Fatherland by the intervention of a British army captain called Ivan Hirst.

The great ads reinforced what the consumer had already sussed, and by the time it went out of production the Beetle had achieved mythic stature to rival the Model T, although technically antiquated.

From being a single-product company, Volkswagen reinvented itself in the '70s and started producing a huge range of neatly designed, technically advanced front-wheel drive cars. The success of this strategy, latterly under the wacky Ferdinand Piech, a member of the Porsche family, has made the Volkswagen Group the world's number four auto maker and number one at exploiting shared componentry.

It's this componentry, shared by machines as apparently different as the Audi TT and Skoda Octavia, that produced the New Beetle. It's not a Beetle in any other than a mystical sense because it is fundamentally a re-bodied Golf. …

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