Drayton Bird: “The Best TV Ad Ever”

While I was in Chicago for Ken McCarthy’s System Seminar, I had the opportunity to meet Drayton Bird.

He’s incredibly bright. And he’s got a wicked sense of humor.

Anyway, he says the best TV ad ever is this one advertising the Volkswagen Beetle. It’s from 1964.

A few things stand out to me:

1. The commercial immediately activates your imagination.

2. It asks a question that a lot of people have probably wondered about. If you’ve ever asked yourself this question, you’ll watch the entire commercial to discover the answer.

3. It demonstrates the product without being a blatant product demonstration.

4. It indirectly reveals multiple product benefits: reliable, starts in cold weather, handles well in the snow, etc.

What do you notice?

-Ryan M. Healy

Ryan M. Healy

Ryan Healy is a financial copywriter and the author of Speed Writing for Nonfiction Writers. Since 2002, he has worked with scores of clients, including Agora Financial, Lombardi Publishing, and Contrarian Profits. He writes a popular blog about copywriting, advertising, and business growth, has been featured in publications like Feed Front magazine, and has been published on sites like WordStream.com, SmallBizClub.com, and MarketingForSuccess.com.

JB - May 21, 2010

What is a snow plow? I live in the South! New VW plant here!

Ryan M. Healy - May 21, 2010

That's funny. Move to Denver, Colorado, USA and you'll find out what snow plows are real fast. ;-)

Peter Brissette - May 21, 2010


There is also the implication that your kind of dumb if you dont drive one. Because if the guy whose job it is to drive snow plow knows you should be driving a volkswagen you must not be very smart if your driving something else. And no one wants to feel like they are dumb!


bartonmurray - May 21, 2010

Yes, adding to what Peter said, I like how it quietly assumes that this is the car to drive if safety and reliability in tough conditions are important to you. Quietly bold…

Ryan M. Healy - May 21, 2010

Good point, Peter!

walterdaniels - May 21, 2010

It tells you the Beetle is” safe, reliable, and good in bad weather. All of which is true. Like the ad, I used to drive a 1959 model, to work in the winter. Drove it home one day, in weather so cold, I drove over a block with it in neutral. :-)

Donnie Bryant - May 22, 2010

Outstanding! I imagine this commercial playing on TV today. There are no car ads anything like this anymore (at least as far as I can tell).

The commercial appeals to the sensibility of potential buyers. This VW is a car you can depend on!

Plus, Good story-teilling wins hands down. You get a lot of story in this short commercial.

Was David Ogilvy in on this commercial? As part of the overall marketing plan, this is genius.

You know what I think? Commercials “sell” cars today with appeals to certain emotions. Testosterone is a major factor. They use music and many visual elements to reinforce those key emotions. This is good salesmanship, right?

Here's the rub. Have you ever been in a car dealership where salespeople utilize those same specific emotional drivers (no pun intended) to sell the cars? I haven't. There is no consistency in the sales/marketing process.

If buyers are looking to fulfill a desire stoked to action by a commercial, the salespeople are committing suicide trying to sell using any other method.

Ryan, thanks for sharing this.

P.S. I LOVE Drayton Bird!

Don Parker - May 22, 2010

I've had three VW Beetles in my life. 1960 and 1966 models, bought many years after they were built. And it was this kind of mystique about them in the ad that made me love them. The perfect counterculture car and statement. Once the '60 VW broke down on a back country road in Texas. My brother and I figured out a part that wasn't working (in the fuel pump, as I recall). The part appeared to be in the shape of a cartridge from a Parker T-ball Jotter Pen. I've always used those pens and had one with me; we replaced the part with the cartridge and it worked. We made it home. Months later my brother asked about what it cost to fix it. I said I never had it worked on; it had continued to work so I never replaced the cartridge.

Now I drive a 2002 New Beetle, the first car I ever bought new. TDI diesel. 45 mpg. Luxury car reincarnation of the old ones. Leather seats, 6-speaker Monsoon sound system. Incredible handling and acceleration compared to the old ones and especially compared to my VW Rabbit diesels in between the Beetles. I love it. But I loved the old ones, too.

This ad also reminded me, of course, of Woody Allen's 1973 classic, Sleeper, where he's been frozen and is brought back to life 200 years later into a world with Orgasmatron booths to replace sex; and confessional robots. At one point, as he's hiding from the dictator's forces, he goes into a cave and discovers a car covered in many layers of cobwebs and dirt. He digs it out. It's a VW Beetle, and of course, it starts up on the first try.

Great ad. Thanks for sharing, Ryan.

Don Parker

Gregory E. Nemer - May 22, 2010

Here's a couple of things I noticed…

1. I see creativity.
Kinda like some of the beer commercials which are the best commercials out there- They're creative.

Great commercial and I see your point but I've got to say that I STILL don't like Volkswagons, heavy snow, Woody Allen or even beer.

Too bad some of the best commercials are for some of the worst products huh.

2. The product solves a problem.
It doesn't just offer a suggestion. Of course a 4X4 vehicle would be a better solution to the problem.

Michael_N - May 23, 2010

What I notice about it is how spare the copy is. It doesn't blather on about how great the car is and how it has this feature and that. It allows the viewer to think during the ad. It's like white space in a print ad. Vitally important, but most amateur advertisers want to fill up the whole page with text. Simple is good.

Lisa - May 23, 2010

Also I think it illustrates how our values have changed. Safe and reliable are good, but most car advertising today focuses on how successful and desirable your car will make you look.

Shanika Journey - May 24, 2010

I think the most powerful thing out of the entire video for me was seeing it was actually the Snowplow driver driving the Beetle…

just to get to the Snow plow so he can clear the roads for everyone else who can't drive on snow-filled streets. That was probably over 90% of everyone else wherever he was.

To me, that was the strongest message for me. I watched it with no volume and who the driver was and what he does for a living got my attention. That was the most powerful benefit and reason that convinced me to go buy a Beetle.

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