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Back to the Classics: An Entire Marketing Education in One Ad


I wish I would have known about the work of Doyle Dane Bernbach while I was going to college.

The university I attended didn’t have a course on advertising history, so I never got to study the incredible portfolio of this legendary 1960s ad agency. In hindsight, I could have saved myself a fortune in tuition. Nearly everything you need to know about creating great advertising can be learned just by examining one of DDB’s print pieces.

Doubt me? Take a look at the Volkswagen ad below.

Volkswagen Ad for AdMuse

This ad ran the day after the moon landing in 1969. It uses seven words, one photo and a logo … yet it contains more marketing knowledge than I learned in four years as an undergrad. Here’s a list:

1. Use current events to emphasize your message. Why spend money to generate excitement when you can ride on the coattails of something amazing that has already happened?

2. Be honest. It sells.
Everyone knew Volkswagens were ugly. It was part of the car’s charm. DDB used this fact to the client’s advantage. With this simple admission, it played up the product’s strongest benefit and tied it to a new symbol of national pride.

3. Not showing your product can sometimes be more powerful than showing it. As a consumer, when I look at this ad, I say to myself “These guys are so confident about their product, they don’t feel the need to plaster a big splashy photo of it across the ad. Smart. Very smart.”

4. One benefit and only one benefit. Many clients want you to stuff every ad with as much information as possible. It waters down the whole enterprise. Can you imagine flipping through the pages full of glutted ads in the New York Times and coming upon this? Talk about less is more.

Do you think if I contacted my college’s alumni office, I could get my money back? Yeah, me neither.

Column written by Mark Carpenter, AAF Omaha Board Member & Co-Chair Nebraska ADDYs Committee.



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