When Volkswagen developed its “Think Small” campaign in 1959, the market for a German car was less than ideal. There was a post-war stigma surrounding the company, prohibiting it from reaching success within the market. Additionally, there was a movement in America towards muscle cars and the Volkswagen Beetle was a strange, foreign and compact automobile.
The campaign’s creators, Helmut Krone and Julian Koenig, needed to conceive an ad that would break through the social constructs surrounding a German product. Simultaneously, the goal was to promote a style of automobile different from what American families were gravitating towards. The final product is what many consider to be one of the best advertising campaigns of the 20th century.
The campaign used a minimalist and simplistic style to create a small black and white image captioned with the words “Think small.” The most eye-catching part of the design was the sheer amount of white space, which directly contrasted the trend of stylized and heavy copy advertisements at that time.
The trick was to think outside the box. The status quo in the advertising world was to provide as much information about the product to the consumer as possible, as opposed to actually persuading them to buy the product. “Think Small,” changed the way we approach advertisements forever by causing ad campaigns to become:
- Less explanatory
- More creative
- Reflective of the products being advertised.
What made “Think Small” so special was not only its ability to grab attention and persuade the consumer, but also its minimalistic nature, and therefore, accurate depiction of the actual product itself.
This is something I have noticed in regards to recent advertisements: while they may be beautiful, creative, funny, etc., it can be hard to decipher what the relation between the advertisement and the product is. For example, during the Super Bowl, while I thought the ads were well-crafted and conveyed some sort of message, usually that message was something that had absolutely no relevance to the product being sold.
This type of advertising is called “association.” The approach is to make the consumer associate your brand with an idea rather than sell specifics of a product. While this is fascinating strategy and effective if executed properly, current advertisements seem to neglect giving any information about the actual item being sold. The appeal is to popular movements and current events, while the product itself is virtually disregarded. The trend in advertising has shifted from explanatory, to creative, to solely brand association. The “Think Small” campaign was able to be creative while still relating back to the actual product.
With the “Think Small” campaign, the advertising industry was challenged to think outside of the box. This mindset still applies, but I think it is our job as creators to conceive advertisements that embody all of the abilities that the “Think Small” campaign did: creativity in a way that reflects the product itself.
Lucy White, Creative Content Producer