Eight after World War II Volkswagen found itself in serious trouble. For one, it's brand was still associated with the Nazi regime, making it virtually impossible to sell in the U.S. Their cars were also small in stature, which paled in comparison to the long, elegant and masculine cars that Detroit was selling at the time; the Volkswagen looked like small & awkward compared to the likes of the Cadillac and Mustang.
By the 1950’s, Volkswagen was almost bankrupt. So what did the company execs do to turn their brand around? First, they changed the car’s name! Veering away from its roots in the German-sounding name Volkswagen, they created the Beetle; with a new name, the car also gained a new lease on life.
Not only did this new name distance the car from its unnerving history, it also served to highlight the distinct features of the Beetle. Instead of competing with the behemoths coming out of Detroit then, Volkswagen execs decided to use their perceived weakness to differentiate theimselves in the ‘Think Small’ Campaign.
An image of a Volkswagen Beetle was set against an expanse of white space, which takes up most of the Ad. Which simply stated ‘Think Small’ in clean Helvetica font. This is to emphasize the simplicity and the minimalist design of the Beetle. In true marketing magic, the once ugly duckling of the automobile industry became the small, quirky car with personality.
Suddenly the Beetle was different. It was Hip. It was Sellable. The Beetle became the best selling import to the States. To this day, the Beetle’s success story remains a marketing legend.
On the brink of bankruptcy, what did Volkswagen do? Did they change the Beetle’s design? Did they capitulate to the market and replace the ‘Beetle’ with an ordinary car to compete with Detroit? No, Volkswagen changed their marketing strategy, and they obviously did something right.
If there is something we have to learn from Volkswagen, it’s to focus on your brand’s personality. Instead of conforming, Volkswagen focused on its unique features. Volkswagen marketed the advantages of owning a small car, highlighting it from the rest. It has found its niche – it has become the car with spunk.
Volkswagen didn’t stop with the Beetle. It created the Golf and the Rabbit, both of which have become successful on its Uniqueness. The market is always looking for something different and Volkswagen has consistently managed to deliver.