Great copy requires great insights.

Alan Sharpe
A free video tutorial from Alan Sharpe
Veteran direct response copywriter
4.4 instructor rating • 14 courses • 23,007 students

Lecture description

To understand why the Volkswagen ad campaign was so successful, to understand why the copy was so effective, you need to understand something of the environment in which these ads were created.

Learn more from the full course

30 Copywriting Secrets from the Best Ad Campaign of All Time

Learn how to write compelling copy by studying print ads written by award-winning copywriters (copywriting pros)

02:28:36 of on-demand video • Updated February 2021

  • Write headlines that grab attention
  • Write headlines that compel prospects to read the body copy
  • Write headlines that work with visuals
  • Write opening lines that compel readers to read the rest of the ad
  • Use irony to grab attention
  • Follow a simple, step-by-step formula for writing body copy
  • Build trust with body copy
  • Find and write unusual testimonials
  • Write effective endings to a sales message
  • Write copy that keeps readers reading right to the end
  • Write clever, effective endings to sales copy
English [Auto] The first tip I have for you about writing great copy has nothing to do with actually writing great copy. It has to do with understanding before you can write great copy. You need to have what's called a big idea. And before you can have a big idea, you need to have a great insight. And before you can have a great insight, you need to do lots of research. All effective copywriting starts with understanding. You're never writing in a vacuum. Your copy never appears in a vacuum. You have competitors. You have competing products. You have competing advertisers, off-line and online. You face shifting consumer tastes. You can only write effective copy if you understand what you are selling, who you are selling it to, and why the buyer should buy your product instead of a competing product. Over the next few weeks, you and I are going to examine dozens of print ads from the most successful advertising campaign in history. I'm talking about the ads that Volkswagen ran during the 1960s and the 1970s for the Volkswagen Beetle station wagon and Karmon Gear. We're going to examine some of the best copy ever written. We're going to examine headlines, opening lines, body copy. Calls to action. We're going to talk about features, benefits and plenty more. But before we do that, we have to start at the beginning. The Volkswagen ad campaign was successful because the advertising agency on the account started at the beginning. If you want to understand why these ads were so successful, if you want to understand why the copy was so effective, you need to understand something of the environment in which these ads were created. Let's start with the market. The automobile market in the United States in the late 1950s was dominated by the Big Three General Motors, Ford and Chrysler. Honda, Toyota and the other foreign car manufacturers did not exist. The cars that the Big Three built were big heavy, eight cylinder, four door sedans. There seemed to be a race on to build the car with the largest fins and the most chrome. The fad was to have everything powered power steering, power locks, power windows, powered radio antennas. This was all new in the late 1950s. A few things to note about these cars. They were gas guzzlers. They got 15 miles to the gallon on average. They were notoriously hard on tires. They were long, which made them hard to park. And they burned a lot of engine oil. The big three car manufacturers were the competition that Volkswagen went up against with their ad campaign. So let's look at the competitions ads. A typical ad for a car in the late 1950s was full page and full color. It showed radiant people in settings of pronounced elegance. The ads featured large blocks of copy. The overall impression that the advertisers strive for was that buying their latest model took you a step higher in the social ladder. If you bought their latest model, you were a somebody and you moved in a better social circle than others. Into this competitive landscape arrived. The Volkswagen car, unlike its competitors. It had two doors, not for its engine, had four cylinders, not eight. Its engine was not in the front, but was instead in the back. Mounted over the rear tires. There was no driveshaft. There was no chrome. There were no fins. There wasn't even a radiator. The car was cooled by air, not water. When the Volkswagen car appeared on the streets in the United States in the late 1950s, people thought it looked funny and it did. They made fun of it and they nicknamed it the bug. Let's look at the advertising agency that created this memorable campaign in nineteen forty nine. A copywriter by the name of Bill Birnbach formed an ad agency in Manhattan, New York. He partnered with Ned Doyle and Maxwell Dane. The company was called Doyle Dane Bernbach, and it still exists today. In those days it was called DDC and they began producing advertising that was original, clever, funny and amazingly effective in the marketplace. And because of the strength of Doyle Dane Bernbach, creative Volkswagen gave their account to the agency in nineteen fifty nine. The art director on the account was Helmut Crone. He is the man responsible for the simple, minimalist, distinctive look of all the Volkswagen ads. And the first copywriter on the account was Julian Conic. He is the copywriter. You and I are going to be learning from during this course. Let's look at the campaign. The ads for the Volkswagen campaign didn't look anything like the car ads of the day. For one thing, they were invariably in black and white. The photos in the ads went largely unretouched. They weren't airbrushed. They weren't modified. There were no pictures of women in furs. There were no illustrations of people frolicking at the golf and country club. The ads were simple and often featured one photo of the car unadorned. The ads never had a slogan. They had never had exclamation marks. The logo was always subdued. The ads appeared in consumer magazines and newspapers. Each Volkswagen ad was designed to be so complete that it could stand alone as a viable advertisement on its own, even without addressing all aspects of the automobile. And for your interest and mine, the copy was also different from the copy of the day. It was irreverent. It was clever. It was funny. The sentences were short. The ads didn't boast. There were no superlatives. Let's look at the success of this campaign. The Volkswagen ad campaign of the 1950s, 60s and 70s was voted the number one campaign of all time by Advertising Age magazine. The success of the campaign was also demonstrated in the marketplace. Research conducted by the starch company showed that the Volkswagen ads consistently had higher readers scores than the editorial content. In other words, when a woman picked up a copy of Woman's Day or when a man picked up a copy of Playboy, they were more likely to read the Volkswagen ad in its entirety and remember it than they were to read the articles and remember them. So what was it about these ads that grabbed people's attention and compel them to read? That's what you'll discover during this course, starting with the next lesson.