Oh no, Beetle!

Good ad, bad ad.

When I was asked to select a good print ad for one of my classes, I chose the following ad:

The wonderful copy deserves a special spot of its own:

Think Small was a campaign for Volkswagen Beetle and it was created by Helmut Krone and Julian Koenig in 1959. Ad Age declared it as the best advertising campaign of the twentieth century. It increased brand awareness, sales and helped build brand loyalty.

The success of the ad was followed by Lemon:

This ad campaign introduced the famous tagline, “We pluck the lemons, you get the plums.”

I have been following Volkswagen’s ads (American and international) religiously and I love most of them… until I came across the following ad created in India in 2010:

I could only say, “Good job, Volkswagen!” after seeing the ad.

I am being sarcastic of course and I’ll tell you why. The first rule of Marketing 101 is to do your market research. Obviously, neither Volkswagen nor its agency bothered to carry out one. If they had, they would have known that dowry is a very BIG issue in India and their ad is happily suggesting that! Volkswagen, why would you urge people to gift a Beetle as a wedding gift knowing only too well how it might get interpreted in the Indian society?

Wedding gift + Dowry tradition = Recipe for disaster

There have been many cases where the brides’ families have been forced to gift the grooms’ families expensive gifts such as gold or car. Well, why not ask the brides’ families to gift them a Beetle in that case? I thought the ad was in poor taste even though I loved the colors and design. The copy… not so much.

The ad received flak on social media and rightly so. It may have worked perfectly in another society but for India it did not work. When you have a legacy of award-winning ads behind you, why break the trend with an insensitive ad?

Sometimes, you don’t even need a lot of copy to make an excellent ad. Volkswagen taught us that as well:

Do not reinvent the wheel and do what you do best — have fun telling the story of your car on these ads, visually or through copy. We love them anyway.