Case In Point: Volkswagen Beetle vs Tata Nano

While knowing the product and audience is important, the playing turf isn’t always as smooth and levelled for the marketer as she would expect. Imagine advertising a car nicknamed ‘Hitler’s Car’ back in the 1950s in the US!


In this post, we discuss how the advertisers of Volkswagen Beetle were successful in doing so. We will then compare this marketing campaign with that of Tata Nano, which didn’t quite work out well.



In the early 1950s, when Germany was still recovering from the world war II, the peeps at Volkswagen felt it would be the right time to market their car 'The Beetle' in America.


Now Beetle, was not just a car.


It was a cursed car.


It had many wrong perceptions associated with it, some of which were actually true.


It was true that the car was slow, small and far from being luxurious.


To add to the misery, there was this misconception among people that the car was manufactured by none other than Hitler himself.


The car had everything going against it. However, spoiler alert! The car still managed to become successful and one of the most sought after cars of that era.


How exactly did this happen?


The responsibility of advertising the car in the US was handed over to three great advertisers Doyle, Dane and Bernbach.


What they did next will blow your mind!


They completely shattered the status quo of automobile ads with a print campaign called 'Think Small'.


Instead of escaping the negatives of the car, they embraced them.


In the campaign, they addressed the fact that their car was small, slow and not luxurious.


But to counter these facts, they claimed that the car had a great gas mileage, would fit into any parking space and would save them money on insurance and repairs.


Here's a copy for your perusal:



So, instead of running away from the problems visibly evident in the car, the advertisers addressed them with sheer class.


They went a step further with this, when in one of the ads, they showed Wilt Chamberlain, a 2.16 m (checkmate, US metric system!) tall basketball player, wouldn't just fit in the car!

The idea was to show that a tall athlete might not be able to get inside the car, but it was perfect for an average sized human being.


Another genius copy from Volkswagen read "Ugly is only skin deep."


All this lead to a massive surge in the sales of the car in America.


Now there's a great lesson to be learnt from this campaign.


A good copywriter can diffuse the bad impressions about her product by addressing them one at a time and countering them with the benefits.



While Volkswagen's Beetle was a success in the US market, India's very own Tata Nano failed to create the same magic.


Nano, which started off as a dream by Ratan Tata, eventually became a reality, known to many as the cheap hatchback for Indians who commuted through scooters and bikes.


The idea sounded great on paper.


But the positioning of the campaign 'People's Car' was rejected by the people themselves.


The production of the car had to stop after the sales dropped down greatly.


A big mistake that the marketing team made was to position the car as cheap.


In India, buying a car is not a necessity, but a luxury.


People look for things that would make them look rich and well off.


In Indian markets, cheap translates to low quality.


Hence, the campaign wasn't received well by the people.


Also, the ads failed to stir emotions in people.


While Volkswagen effectively tapped the emotions of the people by presenting the story of an underdog, Tata Nano couldn't really do much in this regard.


As mentioned in an earlier post, people across the globe, crave good stories.


Stories of underdogs making it big.


The only thing that Volkswagen did right was to present their product not as a product, but a person. A flawed person who can still make it. They touched upon the revolution mindset of people. Tata, on the other hand, failed to do so!


And that made all the difference!














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