It’s fair to say that advertising has a bit of a reputation for exaggeration. Well, maybe a bit more than a bit. Which is why we have the Advertising Standards Authority to keep things straight. There’s no doubt that advertising is aspirational – selling us little packages of fantasy that promise to make our lives and ourselves better. But somewhere between fantasy, sex appeal and hyperbole has emerged a new trend…honesty. With a number of scandals in recent years – from corporates to celebrities to governments – our appetite for simple, honest truths is greater than ever. And businesses that recognise this are more likely to slice through the haze of exaggeration and get their message across.
The likes of Apple, Facebook and Google have set a new tone in straight-talking, minimalist messaging. And others are catching up. We love Oasis’s latest advert: “It’s summer. You’re thirsty. We’ve got sales targets”. True to its word, its campaign tagline is “Refreshing Stuff”.
One of the forefathers of simple, honest ad campaigns is Volkswagen. In the 1950s, they laughed in the face of perfectionist ideals and went in the other direction – practicality. The Beetle was a German car – an unpopular provenance in post-war America. What’s more, its strange, unattractive exterior was in direct contrast to the popular big, shiny, muscle cars. But with a bit of wit and honesty, Volkswagen’s “Think Small” campaign changed the nature of advertising and established one of the most successful campaigns of its time. Realising it was on to a winner, Volkswagen nurtured humorous, direct copywriting for years to come – making sure its adverts stood out from the crowd as much as its cars did. One of our favourites is this gem from 1964, which we think would still work as well today. Well played, Volkswagen.
Presenting America’s slowest fastback
“There are some new cars around with very streamlined roofs.
But they are not Volkswagens.
They are called fastbacks, and some of them are named after fish.
You can tell them from Volkswagens because a VW won’t go over 72 mph. (Even though the speedometer shows a wildly optimistic top speed of 90)…
The VW engine may not be the fastest, but it’s among the most advanced. It’s made of magnesium alloy (one step better than aluminium)…
The VW engine is cooled by air, so it can never freeze up or boil over.
It won’t have anything to do with water.
So we saw no reason to name it after a fish.”
Let’s be frank: what you can gain from honest copywriting