In honour to a lemon

Steven | marketing, advertising & campaigns | Tuesday, 15 December 2009

I was researching some advertising heritage, and for some reason I had to think about the classic VW Beetle ad, stating “Lemon”.


See it in large (“think small” as a bonus)

I was discussing it at the office today, and realized the term “lemon” isn’t commonly used here in Belgium. Maybe Europe? It might as well be a very American thing. I think I learned about it reading Gladwell.

Anyway, a lemon, in the (mostly second hand) car market, is a car that’s simply not good. It might seem ok, but when you end up buying it, you’re basically screwed. There’s a whole economic theory about this .. but that’s not the point here (just nice for you to know).

The ad is a classic one, made by DDB, to support the launch of the VW Beetle in the USA in the 1960′s. Tough market. German car with the Second World War right behind the corner. An American trend to get bigger and bigger cars, that the Beetle clearly didn’t follow, ..

Why on earth would they put LEMON on an ad for a car?

That’s where the copywriting kicks in! Read it, and smile! Basically, what the copy is telling: that particular car didn’t make it to the end selection, because it has a really minor issue (hey!). So if VW classifies this car as a lemon, can you imagine what their quality standards must be?

It’s still great, but back at the time it was trendsetting on Madison Avenue, the center point of the Ad industry then. DDB blew a new wind, bringing a focus to creativity. All big agencies followed easily.

This post is a homage to the profession of ad man back at the days, a real craftsman. The importance of copy. I won’t ignore the importance of copy nowadays, not at all, it’s still key. But things did change. For one thing, distinctive (long) copy is becoming a rare good, because in this over-mediated world, people don’t seem to read this anymore. What’s left is instant hit copy. Make your point, NOW. There is no other choice, the only way to stand out is yell harder, be more visual. A pity, but a reality so it seems.

Or .. do we need to realize, different times need a different approach? That being contemporary (or future ready) is not about using yesterdays techniques .. harder?