think small!

« It did not occur to me that I might be a writer until I flunked out of my first year as a chemistry major, and found work as an apprentice writer of Volkswagen ads. » — Peter Carey

Ah, the delicate art of the soft sell.

You’ve surely heard of the Doyle Dane Bernbach agency’s revolutionary think small campaign for Volkswagen, launched in 1959. You haven’t? Well, it’s only considered, by its industry, to be the greatest advertising campaign of the 20th century.

Until the Beetle hit the market, automotive marketing copy was full of bluster, and the images (often illustrated) were flights of fancy, emphasizing low, long lines and a fantasy lifestyle.

The clean, simple photography on a white background that emphasized the Beetle’s compact, practical form may seem commonplace these days, but it was a revolution in a world where Americans grew up obsessed with muscle cars, horsepower, and tire smoke. Making the car small, when the convention was to make it fill the page, was also novel. The simplistic approach to design and layout was totally contrary to the advertising conventions of the time. [ source ]

While I object to the misuse of the rather pejorative “simplistic” to denote what is instead commendably stripped down, uncluttered, or if one must, ‘simple‘… that’s the gist of it. After all, these folks are gearheads, not graphic designers.

One of the lesser-known components of the long-running campaign was a nifty 1967 promotional book that was graciously given away by one’s friendly Volkswagen dealer.

They gathered all the big guns and asked them to think small. Illustration by Charles Addams.

Let’s take a look inside.

One by perennial bon vivant Eldon Dedini, working one of his pet motifs, but with his customary panache. Under Eldon’s pen, the car’s lines acquire a lusty fluidity.
A beauty by local favourite Virgil Partch (1916-1984). Such a graceful line the man had. Simple… not simplistic!
Don’t be confused: like the Porsche and the Corvair, the VW Beetle’s trunk is located in the front of the vehicle. Cute details: the booted husband’s still-smoking pipe and his glasses remain in the garage. VIP delivers, as usual. Read how he met his demise.
An adorable entry from long-time The New Yorker cartoonist Henry Martin, who passed away last June at the age of 94. I can just hear the German accent.
Another Playboy regular, Phil Interlandi (1924-2002) stretches out a bit, and very successfully at that.
Yet another WOT favourite, Gahan Wilson (1930-2019). Here’s a birthday homage I wrote a little while back.
One from the book’s royal guest, Charles Addams (1912-1988). It’s a fine joke, but I find that many people don’t get it; it would have benefitted from a more vertical composition. Still, trust Uncle Fester to know what’s going down.
A second dose of Mr. Addams. I wasn’t going to say no to a giant mutated toad and toadstool. Here’s our earlier sampler of his macabre wit, from (un)naturally, our first Hallowe’en Countdown.
The couple of decades he spent drawing his successful syndicated strip about unceasing marital strife, The Lockhorns (whose début came the following year!) have perhaps dimmed the critical reputation of William ‘Bill’ Hoest (1926-1988). But he was quite good, when given a chance to stretch out a bit. It’s been since proven that women are the better drivers, incidentally.
And finally, a bat-entry from John Gallagher (1926-2005), a then-ubiquitous panel gag cartoonist in many of the biggest names in magazines: Collier’s, The Saturday Evening Post, Look, True… I love the absurd size ratio between the members of The Dynamic Duo. That’s one sidekick you could accidentally kick aside!

-RG