Abstract: It's ugly, but it gets you there: Volkswagen's Advertising Strategy in the United States, 1949-1968

Corinna Ludwig


The German automobile manufacturer Volkswagen had multiple reasons for expanding into the United States, ranging from the desire to increase its capacity utilization and foreign currency earnings, to company president Heinrich Nordhoff's interest in the country. Based on research in the VW corporate archive, my paper analyzes VW's advertising strategy for the U.S. market from 1949 to 1968. To survive in the competitive American automobile market, VW had to find its niche and compete against other importers from Europe. Moreover, its small and simple main product, the Beetle, ran counter to the consumer preferences the "Big Three" Detroit automakers encouraged. In 1959, VW hired the American advertising agency Doyle Dane Bernbach to develop national campaigns. The corporate image the agency created for the German company was a crucial factor in VW's breakthrough in the 1960s. In this paper I highlight the importance of advertising as a marketing strategy and illustrate the role of brand images. I will examine how VW utilized the "foreigner factor" and how it dealt with national stereotypes. Finally, I will situate VW's campaigns within the broader history of 1960s automobile advertising in the United States.