With the new season of Mad Men back on AMC, it’s only natural for advertising enthusiasts to take a look at the Creative Revolution of the 1960’s. Advertising in the sixties shaped the advertising industry into the practice used today. Doyle Dane Bernbach was the industry leader in advertising in the 1960s because William Bernbach, the creative mind behind DDB, introduced a different technique for creativity in the sixties that had not been seen before. This is what was known as the Creative Revolution (Dobrow, 1984).

Before Bernbach, copywriters and art directors did not work together. He brought them together in the sixties to form the two-pronged creative department that is crucial in today’s advertising industry. Bernbach saw the need for the pictures and words to work together to form a story. With the new development and strength of the creative department, account executives were no longer the sole important and best paid profession and in the office (Dobrow, 1984).

Bill Bernbach said that “advertising is fundamentally persuasion and persuasion happens to be not science but an art” (Dobrow, 1984). DDB broke the rules of advertising and created ads that stood out from the rest. They realized that if an ad looked like others, it would get lost in the crowd. The creation of ads that looked drastically different from the competition can clearly been seen in their Volkswagen “Thing Small” campaign. This method of “standing out from the crowd” grew their billings from $25 million to $270 million annually, which placed DDB as the sixth largest agency in the U.S. and the seventh largest in the world in the 1960’s (Dobrow, 1984).

Bernbach also said that advertising was “bringing dead facts to life and making them memorable,” describing the importance of a message’s delivery in addition to the message itself (Dobrow, 1984). Bernbach’s creative formula was known for a big picture in the top two thirds and headline and copy in the remaining bottom third with a great deal of white space. A classic example of this formula is also seen in the “Think Small” campaign (Dobrow, 1984).

History of “Think Small”
The Volkswagen campaign in 1963 was a landmark campaign fueled by the founder of the Creative Revolution: William Bernbach. Volkswagen had a great deal of success with the Beetle in Europe and it hoped to have the same success in the United States (“The 10 most,”). This campaign was a challenge because DDB was a Jewish advertising agency that had to sell an ugly car that was being manufactured in Wolfsburg, Germany, a plant built by the Nazis. This could have been a public relations tragedy, since World War II had only ended fifteen years earlier, but DDB’s creative strategy put the Beetle on the map despite the odds (Ogden, 1999).

DDB’s talent for creativity created the Volkswagen campaign that featured the “Beetle” in a black and white ad that was not touched up. The tag line was “Think Small.” This was a new example of simplicity that had not been seen before DDB. Advertisements during this time were very heavy in both tag lines and copy. It was normal to see advertisements with very glamorous, stylized photography with heavy copy; when the “Think Small” campaign released, it shocked the public. In the video above, you’ll see a collection of what most ads looked like during this time. Taking the risk of going against the norm turned the entire campaign into a success across print, television, poster, and radio advertisements (Dobrow, 1984).

The price of the Beetle added to the success of the campaign. In 1959, it sold for almost one thousand dollars less than the cheapest American car. Even in 1968 it was still three hundred dollars cheaper than the cheapest American car. The “Think Small” campaign advanced Volkswagen to being the most sold imported car. It sold 120,000 units in 1959. In 1967 it sold 430,000 units, which was more than the sales of all other imported cars combined and more than any other American brand except for Impala, Mustang and Plymouth (Glatzer, 1970).

Targeted Audience
The “Think Small” campaign targeted America’s population that consisted of the fifty percent under the age of twenty-five years old. William Bernbach met this change in culture and reached the better-educated, mobile, young, enthusiastic and optimistic people of America through advertising. He reached this target market by creating a campaign that was different, creative and optimistic- similar to young America. He proved that creative work was needed (Dobrow, 1984). The youthful rebellion of driving boomers embraced the car. These young people were daring, thrifty, and willing to drive a funny shaped car and feel proud (Heller, 2001).

Volkswagen’s Competition
In the 1960’s, most car advertisements were similar to the next. Oldsmobile’s headline was: “You’ve got to drive it to believe it!” Chevrolet said: “Filled with grace and great new things.” Buick proclaimed: “You make your ‘someday’ come true now.” Words in the taglines and copy were always describing new, shiny, and big features (Volkswagen “Think Small” ads). Since men in the 1960s were the primary purchasers of cars, the ads normally featured women. This concept communicated: “get the product, get the girl.” The Beetle took a different approach.

The Beetle campaign brought information and persuasion to its advertisements that differentiated it from the competition. The headline was “Think Small” accompanied by copy that highlighted the advantages of driving a smaller car versus a larger car. The print advertisements had a great deal of white space and the product was small. There were no models being highlighted nor was there color. The ads didn’t market to consumers like the competition by highlighting luxury, space value, and happiness but instead focused on the benefits of small size and affordability. The visual aspects had not been seen before but were very pleasing to the eye. The contrast of empty space caused the Beetle to pop from the page. The unique approach was successfully integrated throughout all of Volkswagen’s print and television ads (Volkswagen “Think Small” ads).

DDB showed that taking the negatives and turning them into positives could be successful. They took the small car and said it was better for parking. Since it was small, it didn’t eat up gas, tires, oil and it didn’t need antifreeze. The ads were honest, just like the car and the consumers they were targeting (Glatzer, 1970). DDB portrayed the Beetle as honest, durable, practical and cheap. This creative strategy proved to be so brilliant that any DDB copywriter could write for Volkswagen (Twitchell, 2000). The Beetle had a strong brand personality. It was the guy who was always trying to get it right, the odd man out, the strange man in a stranger world and this connected with the consumers (Twitchell, 2000).

The “Think Small” campaign stood out from the rest in the sixties because it brought an emotionally honest appeal to the consumers. Competing cars at this time were fantasy themed. They were long elegant vehicles along with handsome models depicted in beautiful settings. A majority of these advertisements were shown in illustration (Dobrow, 1984). These car advertisements of the 1960s were visually colorful, with big headlines and large logos. The models were shown happily riding in the cars with a focus on the features of the vehicle (Volkswagen “Think Small” ads).

The “Think Small” campaign also stands out for the use of television which had penetrated 90 percent of American homes in mid-sixties. The television spots were somewhat grainy and in black and white, but it created a strong emotional appeal to the consumers and the ads were aimed to sell (which they did).


Dobrow, Larry. (1984). When Advertising Tried Harder. The Sixties: The Golden Age of American Advertising. New York, NY: Friendly Press, Inc.

Glatzer, R. (1970). The new advertising; the great campaigns from avis to volkeswagen. New York, NY: Citadel Press.

Heller, S. (2001). Graphic design history. Retrieved from http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=iapGogAWpeYC&oi=fnd&pg=PA305&dq=Volkswagen+%22Think+Small%22+campaign&ots=_v_BtMjOA3&sig=LqVdPuQQ_FX0V7z5H2gYMIxY4fg#v=onepage&q=Volkswagen%20%22Think%20Small%22%20campaign&f=false

Ogden , M. (1999). Volkswagen ad campaign was far from a lemon read more: volkswagen ad campaign was far from a lemon | silicon valley / san jose business journal. Business Journal, Retrieved from http://www.bizjournals.com/sanjose/stories/1999/11/22/smallb7.html

The 10 most successful ad campaigns of all time and how they came to be . (n.d.). D. Drew Design, Retrieved from http://www.ddrewdesign.com/blog/index.php?cmd=article&id=136

Twitchell , J. (2000). print material c2000 20 ads that shook the world : the century’s most groundbreaking advertising and how it changed us all. New York, NY: Crown Publishers.

Volkeswagen “Think Small” ads. (n.d.). Thinking Outta Box, Retrieved from http://thinkingouttabox.wordpress.com/2009/10/21/volkswagen-ads/