1960s VW ad by Doyle Dane Bernbach. Copywriter: Rita Selden

What advertiser in their right mind would knock their own product? Volkswagen, that’s who. The ad on the left is over 40 years old, yet it’s far more daring than most of the ads you see today. Customers expect advertisers to boast about their products, not to say something negative, as this ad does.

When a company criticises its product customers are surprised and engaged. They read on, listen or watch to find out what the company has to say.

The copy in this VW ad isn’t gratuitously outrageous. There is method in VW’s apparent madness. Readers quickly learn that VW rejected the particular Beetle shown, because it didn’t meet their standards. So an apparent negative becomes a positive. You discover that VW practise very high quality control on their production line. And you think hmm, maybe I should buy a VW.

In the 60s, VW often took a self-effacing, sometimes self-mocking approach in their advertising. They had headlines like Ugly is only skin-deep, and Will we ever kill the bug? with a photo of the car belly up. These ads endeared people to the Beetle. And it became one of the best-selling cars of all time.

I think this honest, humble approach to advertising can still work today. Do you? I’d like to know your views.

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