“Think small kid, and you’ll make it big!”

Obviously none of us received this advice growing up, but maybe we should have as it served Volkswagen so well.

Source: (Katya Mezhibovskaya, 2015)

The “Think Small” campaign was created by Helmut Krone and Julian Koenig in 1959 for the Volkswagen Beetle. With the help of the DDB & Co advertising agency, VW emphasised simplicity which hadn’t been done before, using mainly print along with billboards and television advertisements.¹

“Think Small” = “One of the best advertising schemes of the 20th Century”¹ 

Thinking Small Never Got Old, And Neither Did Our Beetle


The Rise of the Beetle

Even after World War II the lingering association of Nazi Germany remained with the VW brand.² Its German origins, renowned for technical efficiency and innovation were not cutting it. As if that wasn’t enough, VW had other issues to overcome; the 50’s and 60’s was all about big family cars, status quo and “Muscle on Wheels”. Cars evolved into fashion statements and earned their owners the ultimate bragging rights.³

Enter Volkswagen’s Beetle:

  • Petite
  • Slow
  • Peculiar in shape
  • Named after a bug

… As far as cars go, this was not your typical ego-booster.


Who was this campaign aimed at? … The current and soon to be drivers of America of course! Appealing to so many was done by stepping away from the ‘perfect lifestyle’ scenes. VW caught the public’s interest by using wittiness and unashamedly admitting their faults. Once that was out in the open they informed consumers that those flaws were the reason for their superiority.

VW used unexpected humor and self-mockery by making statements such as; “You think I’m small? Yeah, I am”.⁴ VW never tried to embody something that they weren’t.


“Think Small”

The campaign had several visual trademarks: a page being occupied by mostly negative space, a small print description at the foot of the advertisement topped by a short phrase in bold.¹ VW went against the norm by not filling their ads to the brim with content. By parking a little Beetle on a plain backdrop, attention was immediately drawn to the car and now it could tell you all about itself at ease.³ Even with all this negative space the advertisements never appeared incomplete.

In terms of content, VW went on to give its audience a paradox. If you saw someone eating an ice-cream cone with three scoops you would want the same. So if someone told you that what you really want is a cone with a single scoop, you would call that person silly. This, however, was what VW proposed; “Think Small” because you will be surprised with what this little car has to offer.

The paradox continues; most brands will tell you why they are the best, but why would VW do a thing like that? The campaign made fun of the Beetle’s shortcomings, giving VW personality.⁵ Consumers played along, because if the Beetle made fun of itself, then why couldn’t they join in on the fun. Soon everyone knew about the “Think Small” campaign.

The copy frequently refers to the brand as VW as opposed to Volkswagen.³ This ‘nickname’ played a powerful role as it allowed consumers to feel part of the community, the Volkswagen community.

Wilt group.png
Sources: (Bob Mac, [S.a]) and (Wes Garcia, 2011)

Wilt Chamberlain, the 7’1 basketball player was placed beside the beetle showcasing the size in a paradoxical manner. This set the pavement for athlete-car endorsements. VW rather focused on the car itself, and not the usual ‘people driving the car looking all happy’ approach.⁵

The simplicity and humour of the “Think Small” campaign is still evident in many of today’s VW advertisements. The Beetle may have undergone some modifications over the years, but its personality and distinctiveness remain the same. Funny how a campaign that initially seemed ridiculous in 1959 is still as successful today as it was then.

kill group.png
Sources: (Ron Wallace, [S.a]) and (Alfredo Marcantonio, 2014)


The Beetle is back!

Source of the Beetle: (Dan Roth, 2012)


Show the Beetle some love – and share your Beetle experiences with the Beetle community…



¹ Hall, Justin. 2014. “Think Small” Advertising Campaign [Online]. Available: https://clas-pages.uncc.edu/visualrhetoric/projects/individual-projects/think-small-advertising-campaign/. [2016, September 7].

² Young, K. 2014.Prezi.Volkswagen “Think Small” Campaign [Online]. Available: https://prezi.com/x9l78enkioi2/volkswagen-think-small-campaign/ [2016, September 8].

³ Johnson, J. 2012. Design Shack. The Greatest Print Campaigns of All Time: Volkswagen Think Small [Online]. Available: https://designshack.net/articles/graphics/the-greatest-print-campaigns-of-all-time-volkswagen-think-small/ [2016, September 8].

⁴ Kolowich, L. 2015.Hubspot.12 of the Best Marketing and Advertising Campaigns of All Time [Online]. Available: http://blog.hubspot.com/blog/tabid/6307/bid/32763/The-10-Greatest-Marketing-Campaigns-of-All-Time.aspx [2016, September 8].

⁵ Van Den Bosch, Connor. 2013. Ad Analysis: Volkswagen Think Small (Major Essay 2) [Online]. Available: https://connorjv2.wordpress.com/second-essay-page-anticipate-the-wait/. [2016, Spetember 7].

References for Images:

Alfredo Marcantonio. 2014. [Online]. Available: http://www.greatvwads.com/pix/cop18.gif [2016, September 9].

Bob Mac. [S.a]. [Online]. Available: http://www.cqql.net/vw-wilt.jpg [2016, September 9].

Dan Roth. 2012. [Online]. Available: http://www.autoblog.com/2012/11/05/herbie-goes-to-spain-with-vw-beetle-53-edition/ [2016, September 10].

Katya Mezhibovskaya. 2015. [Online]. Available: https://s3.amazonaws.com/classconnection/261/flashcards/9107261/jpg/vw-lemon-and-think-small-ads-15179AE90623AC6CE89.jpg [2016, September 9].

Ron Wallace. [S.a]. [Online]. Available: nimg.com/736x/8a/ec/c5/8aecc54b1af4425138af9e2f493b4be8.jpg [2016, September 9].

Wes Garcia. 2011. [Online]. Available: http://i0.wp.com/farm5.staticflickr.com/4042/4539089992_8d13f00955_z.jpg?resize=459%2C640 [2016, September].