Marketing win: VW Beetle

Guest post by Elizabeth Stearns, senior lecturer in marketing, UW Foster School of Business

vwbugWhen the Beetle was first introduced in the early 1960s, people would joke that you could go up a hill or you could have heat in a Bug, but you couldn’t do both. It was a quirky car, to put it mildly. Even VW engineers called it a lemon.

But the company positioned the Beetle as a different kind of automobile with a unique personality in a series of funny, brilliant advertisements. It found a target audience that was really interested in expressing their own personality, and they found this car was an extension of who they were. A generation of Beetle drivers reveled in its lack of frills. They didn’t care if you could drive up the hill with the heat on.

Then when the New Beetle was introduced in 1998, decades after the original was retired, the big issue was: how do you guide Baby Boomers down memory lane while also attracting the younger generation, because you need to grow that market and the Beetle is an entry vehicle into the VW line?

Cadillac had tried to attract younger drivers for years and failed because they simply did not want to drive their father’s car. There was the same danger for the reintroduced Beetle. It’s very difficult to design a campaign that successfully reaches two different demographic targets.

But VW pulled it off. The campaign was genius, with modern taglines like “Less flower, more power,” that sparked nostalgia in Boomers and spoke individuality to Millennials. The result was immediate success, creating a new “odd-shaped” category that would soon see competition in the reintroduced Mini Cooper, the PT Cruiser and others.

The original Beetle is a superb example of a flawed product saved by great marketing. And the marketing that launched its reintroduction was even better.

See 15 Cautionary Tales: Failed Marketing Campaigns for more information.

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