In 1949, when Volkswagen launched the Beetle in the USA, why did their ads call it ‘ugly’? In this Vlog, Grant explains why this and similar apparently self-denigrating ads worked.
Some of the most successful and famous adverts in history were done for the Volkswagen Beetle when it was being launched in America. At the time Americans loved big – and what they saw as beautiful cars – and along came the Beetle, which was the absolute opposite. One of the adverts was a tiny Beetle on this huge sheet of white canvas and it just said; ‘Think small’. Another one was the Volkswagen Beetle where it said; ‘it’s ugly, but it gets you there.’
The point was, Americans thought the Beetle was ugly, and by openly stating it to the American public and saying; ‘it’s ugly’, it made the second statement, ‘but it gets you there’ – the fact that it’s a really reliable car – believable, because of the first statement. In other words, companies often try and purvey this perfect image where they’re good at everything, but sometimes pointing out the obvious failures or flaws or the ones that don’t really matter, make the claims that you are saying more believable.
There are some great examples of this in history. One of the most effective adverts of all time was for Avis who were always playing number two to Hertz. And the advert read when you’re only number two, you try harder or else. And it was a really effective ad, by playing on the fact that everybody knew they were only number two .
Stella Artois, was never the cheapest beer in the market, in a place that was quite price sensitive, but their tagline ‘reassuringly expensive’ made it obvious that they knew they weren’t the cheapest, but there was a guarantee that you were getting quality behind it, and it was incredibly effective in promoting the brand.
In an era where companies control their own media on websites or on social platforms, people spend so much time trying to be slick and the best they can be. And of course you want to look effective, but sometimes pointing out your obvious flaws or being able to poke fun at yourself, makes you come across as more authentic and the claims that you do make much more believable.
So remember, perfect isn’t always perfect. Companies, like humans, are often more relatable when we can see their foibles.
There may be small changes to the spoken word in this transcript in order to facilitate the readability of the written English
Love that closing sentence…so true.
US VW Beetle Ads were brilliant weren’t they!?
Yes Chris! Some of the best adverts ever made.
Another brilliant video Grant. didn’t know about the VW ads but was well aware on the Avis No.2 and Stella’s ‘reassuringly expensive’ angles. It’s a really good angle to look at your product/s from. What can you point out that you hope your prospects and client’s don’t discover, and then make an enormous deal out of telling THEM instead of them telling you.
Thank you Tim. I am really pleased that you enjoy the videos. You are absolutely right. Being open about weak spots, flaws or vulnerabilities means that you can communicate them from a position of strength, rather than having to be defensive when they are ‘discovered’. It also gives more credibility to the positive claims that you make.
Thanks so much for this Grant. It’s so obviously true, but everyone tries to persuade us otherwise.
Incidentally, I was a beer rep selling Stella, and it was a fantastic product to sell. It sold itself.
But then they killed it by doing special offers in supermarkets, thus destroying the image overnight!
Absolutely Guy. Amazing that you were a beer rep selling Stella. You benefited from that market positioning first hand!