The new Beetle. VW’s hippie story is now over.

If you were ever in advertising, you probably at one point loved VW advertising.

VW has made a lot of great cars (GTi especially) but only the van and Beetle have become automotive icons here in America. VW enabled drivers to live a story in which people on the road were friendly and connected (a story Mini adopted years later to great success). VW manufactured hippy values for the masses. A friendly people’s car.

With the VW van long gone, this brand story was revitalized with the relaunch of the bug in 1998. People again motored around in a friendly looking car that had a flower holder on the dash.  Colorful bugs and iMacs seemed to grace every billboard.

That story is now over with the redesign and soon to be launched new Beetle. It’s more aggressive and clearly designed for men to like (and to aggressively compete with the likes of Mini). It takes its design reference from roundish rally cars. It looks like it could beat a GTi in a race (it probably is a GTi under there).

As announced in many places including here, the “cute” bug is dead and with this final decision so is the brand that Ben & Jerry and Jerry Garcia would drive.

I’ve always liked the VW brand and I do like the new bug design (I’m an ex-Mini owner). I hope they move a lot of bugs and other models because I’d like “the people’s (luxury) car” brand to thrive here in the US. Brands like people need to evolve and change with the times.

But there is something sad about the fact that a friendly and fun car, designed for those who let the other person merge first and wave too, could just never could scale to match mass market Detroit numbers here in America.

Looking forward it seems like VW’s story is more akin to “On the road of life there is passengers and drivers.  Aggressive drivers wanted.”

"The new Beetle. VW’s hippie story is now over." by Scott
Posted in Brands Enabling Stories on Thursday, April 21st, 2011
  • Sigrid

    I did some sales and demographic analysis on this once. The previous iteration of the Beetle appealed to women, which meant men didn’t want to buy it (“chick car”). Initial sales were ok, then fell off a cliff. Mini on the other hand never went for cute, always shot and talked about the car in quite a masculine/non-cute way, which appealed to men and women. Sales grew and sustained over the long term. Basically, you can’t ever really appeal to women if you also want to sell a car to men. I’ve been watching the Fiat 500 comms (pretty inconsistent on the whole), and am seeing a bit too much cute. I  predict a rapid decline after initial surge.

    • Anonymous

      Yes. Stephen and I were doing at VW project on something else and got into the same issue. Essentially cars has proven to be like beer and most liquor brands – if it isn’t male it won’t sell. We were trying to think about successful female identity car brands. Jaguar for a while but that sent the business south. Chrysler Sebring. VW Cabrio. Ditto both.

      What’s most disappointing about this, especially in the case of the bug, is that it was a central symbol of the narrative of the 60s (peace, friendliness, neighborly behavior, etc.) – those are feminine qualities. At the time, I thought the bug would reinvigorate that sensibility, which it did, but that American narrative, both in marketing and in politics, doesn’t seem to get as much traction these days.

      • Avenius01

        I agree with much of the above, but would debate nuance a bit as to whether or not Mini was specifically masculine, or more pointed at those with a love of driving (space VW used to occupy quite successfully for a while, especially during the Beetle relaunch).  I suppose you coould argue that there’s some degree of masculinity about love of driving, but think that’s debatable.  And I Ithink Mini worked hard to round off any edges “Let’s share the road. Let’s Motor.” in a way that aligned it with much of the peaceful, friendly ethos you describe above without making it weak or passive.

        So I think that what’s helped Mini be successful in an enduring way has been its ability to connect the thrill of the road (and driving experience in a Mini) with a very populist, “Can’t we all just get along” ethos in a way that makes it seem sensible, not wimpy or effeminate.  It’s a very effective threading of the needle.


        • Anonymous

          Yes I agree with that.  MINI did take the idea that VW introduced into automotive “friendly motoring.”  It was very effective threading of the needle. What made it work so well then was the clear cultural enemy of the SUV/dark tinted windows/”car bully” enemy.  I still think what made it work so well is that it wasn’t a man v. woman fight.  It was man v. man.  MINI, as an object, looked masculine.  Its stance and form cued masculinity.  It made one aspect of its identity “tough.”  

          • Sigrid

            Saw the new JLo Fiat 500 ad today. Wonder what they’re thinking. “Hey look, we found all this white space in the small car category!”