In 1960, New York ad agency Doyle Dane Bernbach took a gamble and introduced the comely, low-priced Volkswagen Beetle as a "lemon"--ordinarily the ultimate insult for a car.
But the attention-getting copy took an intriguing twist, explaining that though the car looked perfect, a VW inspector discovered a blemished chrome strip on the glove compartment that needed to be replaced before the car could be sold.
The "we're not perfect" campaign smashed advertising conventions, which called for advertisers to stress the positive and avoid negative words like "lemon." The approach was hugely successful, helping to shape the legend of the VW Beetle, and put Doyle Dane Bernbach, now DDB Needham Worldwide, on the map.
Two years later, an ad from Doyle Dane Bernbach tweaked convention again, turning one of the Bug's disadvantages--its size--into an appealing attribute. "Think Small," a print ad urged.
"Once you get used to some of our economies, you don't even think about them anymore," it continued. "Except when you squeeze into a small parking spot. Or renew your small insurance. Or pay a small repair bill. Or trade in your old VW for a new one."
Thanks in large part to the self-deprecating campaign, sales of VW bugs soared to 233,000 in 1963 from 97,000 in 1959. VW is reintroducing an update Beetle next week.