This ad was not a Lemon

Mad Men lovers amongst us will no doubt know a great deal about this advert by Volkswagen, created for them by NY ad agency Doyle Dane Bernbach. DDB have long since merged with two other companies forming Omnicom but now under the name DDB Needham. All very Mad Men.

Created by Julian Koenig and art director Helmut Krone, they set about to create an advertisement that would set VW out from the crowd. Doing something that nobody else was doing at the time. They had “simplicity in mind, contradicting the traditional association of automobiles with luxury”.

Nobody would consider leaving most of the page blank as this would waste valuable space to get as many messages across. Contrary to this, in a newspaper filled with messages, having a mostly blank page allowed the one thing that is most important to stand out from everything else… the car.

The VW Beetle was a relatively small car by 1950s standards (the mini had not yet arrived) and so this radical thinking needed a radical approach, and DDB managed to do this so well that sales soared higher than VW could have hoped.

They soon followed up with another advertisement that would continue to create gasps of air. Now, all rules of marketing and advertising would tell you never to point out a flaw, or even mention that one might exist. DDB knew, long before anyone else, that acknowledging these errors and explaining how a company like VW solve them was a strong message that is genuine and refreshing.

So, continuing with this theme they pointed out how many checks a car goes through before it is good enough to leave the factory. This car, above, did not make it because of an error and therefore is a ‘lemon’. How sad.

These adverts have been held up before as a benchmark of great advertising and the power of honesty in messages. Somehow this still escapes most of us, leaving just a few winning. I wish we saw more of this refreshing kind of advertising… the world would be a calmer, clearer place to be.


Having worked in design for the past decade, Daniel started as a discussion of timeless, modernist product design. Trained as a graphic designer, he also has an avid interest in typography. You can follow him on Twitter @ateliertally.