One of the most influential ads ever was the Volkswagen snowplow commercial. It was ingeniously simple. It was groundbreaking
To illustrate how trustworthy it is while simultaneously poking fun at its product (as its audience did) and admitting that it is very unattractive.
The most iconic and effective of DDB’s classic print and TV commercials for Volkswagen is its unaffected realism and its audacious execution.
Bob Levenson (who some say was the inspiration for Don Draper in Mad Men) was a creative director at Volkswagen who helped take the company’s advertising to new heights with the help of legendary ad man Bill Bernbach.
The commercial demonstrated the dependability and simplicity of the vehicle.
The Inspiration & the Big Idea
DDB Düsseldorf’s David Herzbrun, a copywriter, and art director Paul Wollman attempted to create VW’s TV commercials after having produced some fantastic print advertisements for the Beetle.
They came up with an advertisement that opens with a Beetle travelling on a snow-covered, untracked rural road at the crack of dawn. Shot after shot, the Beetle effortlessly ploughs through deep snow drifts that are illuminated by the car’s headlights as it speeds up the winding, mountainous route. The silence is deafening. The only thing you can hear is the engine’s bold hum. The suspense is mounting: who is the driver, and where is he travelling to? The Beetle pulls up to a huge, foreboding edifice, and the driver exits the vehicle. Then, in a large garage, the lights turn on, the strong engine starts up, and a massive snow plow moves past the snow-covered Beetle.
The ad was filmed over several days in the Swiss region of Vaud. David Herzbrun recalled that the whole road network wasn’t ploughed throughout the winter.
They made their roads by driving beside utility pole rows that ran across the countryside. Each site identified could only be used for one take since each shot asked for trackless roads. For a whole week, despite the cold, they drove the vehicles and crew all around the neighbourhood to film.
It was worth it: the Museum of Modern Art in New York picked the film as the first TV ad in their permanent film collection, and in 1999, Snow Plow was awarded the ‘Best Television ad of the Century’ at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. However, credit for the commercial’s adaptation for the American market should be given to Bob Levenson and Len Sirowitz.
“The original voice-over in German went on and on and never got to the point,” Sirowitz recalls, so Bob and he wrote an entirely new copy, just a few lines, including the now famous question. ” “Have you ever wondered how the snow plow driver drives to the snow plow? This one drives a Volkswagen. So you can stop wondering.” is so unexpectedly startling and smart that it hits you.
Excellent blend of clarity and ingenuity (both of which are required when attempting to praise the recipient’s wit).
The US film, filmed in a gorgeously sparse style, follows a snow plow operator as he navigates treacherous snowy roads in his trusted Volkswagen Beetle.
Many in the advertising industry consider this to be the first 60-second TV advertisement to try to convey a tale using allegory. Furthermore, the ad’s riskiness and originality lie in its minimalist, cinema verite atmosphere and the fact that the product isn’t even mentioned until the very end.
To mock the advertisements of the period, which showed predominantly white people in stuffy settings promoting the items, this is another great example of an anti-advertisement. This advertisement makes its point with humour while still being forthright about its other goals. VW commercials were often open to interpretation, allowing the company to stand out in a congested market while competitors treated consumers like they were idiots.
Paul Wollman, the art director, and David Herzbrum, the copywriter, both contributed to the concept too.
Client Agency Respect
The work may look archaic now, but it was the most innovative and risk-taking of its period 50 years ago.
Clients must be ready to take some chances if they want to see true craftsmanship. Therefore, Volkswagen’s courage should not be understated. It took a risk by relying on its agency, and the payoff was substantial.
Both the client and the agency had brilliant minds working on the problem, mutually appreciated one another, and decided to go forward as partners.