Wednesday, January 16

Improving Advertising: Nine VW Rules, Revisited

On Monday, after alluding to advertising rule number 5 (people sometimes lie), which is simply meant to remind professionals not to follow qualitative focus groups or quantitative surveys on blind faith, I received an e-mail asking me what some other "advertising rules" might be.

I thought about posting a few, but then decided doing so deserves the same pretext I provide public relations students (sometimes public relations professionals write ads in a pinch). Before sharing any advertising tips, I always reference Fred Manley, then vice president and creative director of BBDO.

In 1963, Manley wrote “Nine Ways To Improve An Ad.” He didn’t use just any ad. He set out to apply "rules" to the 1960 classic “Think Small” Volkswagen ad, which many in the advertising industry and Advertising Age have since called the best ad of the 20th century.

There is also an Apple/Microsoft branding parody that conveys a modern take on Manley’s musings. You can find a link to it right here.

Both presentations are pointed, but Manley’s original and less available version, last republished by Communication Arts in March/April 1999, is exquisitely timeless. Here is a summarized version that strips away the satire, but, hopefully, still conveys the point…

Nine Rules To Improve A Volkswagen Ad

• Show your product as large as possible
• Include the product name in the headline
• Add in some “news” about your product
• Never use negative words in headlines
• Show people enjoying the product
• Make the logo as big as possible
• Add snazzy copy, bullets, and sales points
• Always localize ads, eg. make it American

In the article, Manley successfully transforms the classic headline, “Think Small,” into “New! From Volkswagen! A ’63 Sizzler with new sass and skee-daddle!”

Yes, yes, pretty heady stuff for an ad in 1960s. And yet, we still run into clients who tell communicators and copywriters stuff like this all the time, forcing their companies and brands to conform to rules invented for a medium. (Hmmm. Reminds me of … social media.)

So there you go. I’ll post a few smarter “rules” for advertising next week, but the most important rule is the one Manley conveyed so well. Advertising Rule Number 1: There Are No Rules.



Valeria Maltoni on 1/17/08, 10:13 AM said...

Ah, I could write a book on people who have innovated and invented new industries, etc. by not following the rules. We were on the same wavelength yesterday. I also published on VW, new Tiguan campaign missing 'social' ;-)

Rich on 1/17/08, 11:06 AM said...


Sometimes it scares me how closely aligned our subject matter is. If anyone wonders, no, we do not call each other to see what we're wearing. Ha.

No social media? Hmmm... might just be the Tiguan will be marketed differently in the states. I'm not currently working on related VW campaigns to say at the moment, but I wouldn't be surprised if their well-known physical social marketing efforts starts shifting online in time. Currently, VW Life skirts the social media scene so they seem only a step or two away.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for remembering my dad!
Carrie Manley

Rich on 5/15/10, 7:38 PM said...

Hey Carrie,

The pleasure is mine. Your dad was amazing!



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