Iconic Ads in Modern Times: Volkswagen Lemon


We pluck the lemons – you get the plums

The iconic Volkswagen Lemon advertisement shifted how companies marketed their products in the 60’s. Prior to this ad with its simplistic design, ads were more clichéd with little nuance or originality. The Lemon ad revolutionized advertising because it elevated design and copy to a more sophisticated and clean level.

Lemon AdBill Bernbach’s legendary ad is known for being the first advertisement that connected a business directly to their consumers. Volkswagen’s North American growth was kickstarted by the bold headlines and clever copy. No other car brand dared refer to itself as a “lemon,” nor did they encourage drivers to “Think Small” as other ads would state. Ultimately, consumers were left with the image that VW is honest and dedicated providing nothing but the highest quality in a neat, revolutionary package.

How to Translate Storytelling to Modern Times

Today, it is no secret most consumers are used to quick, visually stimulating advertisements. The act of ‘storytelling’ has shifted from heavy copy – like in the Lemon advertisement – to catchy snippets and bold visuals. Despite this noticeable shift, it is as important as ever to connect with the consumer at a personal level. Instead of a print ad, you could do a short video or an animated visual that differentiates from other brands. The most important things that Volkswagen did with these ads was take risks and tell a relatable story.

Copywriters – do not fear! Copy is alive and well. While ads rarely match Lemon’s character count, carefully chosen words are just as vital to catching the eye and closing the deal as they ever have been. In the 140-character days, remember that a good vocabulary is defined by one’s ability to use one compelling word in place of many.

The Lemon ad grabbed the attention of consumers because the design and copy worked together – something every ad can still do today.

  1. Entice the audience: VW did this by using a simple photo image, intriguing headline, and a bold opening sentence: “This Volkswagen missed the boat.”
  2. Pull the reader in deeper: Consumers can sense when a brand has substance. Make the reader curious about what happens next. Bill Bernbach and the VW team took a chance and it paid off. The opening statements pulled the reader in and allowed for deeper story telling.
  3. Make the story worth it: When developing an engaging project for a client, tell your story through strong visuals and copy that clearly portrays the message of your brand. Drive the call to action home with a unique and substantive message that appeals to consumers on an emotional or spiritual level.


At Ideas Collide, we believe in creating content that is not only engaging but creative and inspiring. We understand the ins and outs of storytelling and can provide you with a full range of services. Learn more about our talents and technologies.


Posted on June 23, 2017 in Digital Marketing Recommendations, Ideas Collide News

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