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  • David Meikle

When is a lemon not a lemon?


Of course it’s not a gorilla, it’s a lemon.

And here is the ad that inspired. In it, Bill Bernbach – one of the godfathers of modern advertising, describes his client’s new product as a lemon; a dud, a reject, no good.

Readers at first thought Bernbach was mad. Why would he possibly describe the VW Beetle like that? But they had never seen advertising like this before – advertising that engaged them and made them think.

So, they read on.

And DDB’s advertising explained that not all Beetles were lemons, just this one, because this one had a blemish on the chrome strip of the glove compartment and was therefore rejected and sent back to the line to be made perfect.

Readers then understood the integrity of the VW quality control process and were reassured by the standard of build for all Beetles.

Lemon was one of the first ads in what was the dawn of a new age in advertising. An age where ideas dramatised the benefit of great products and made consumers feel something powerful about brands. Other VW ads like Think Small, and Snow Plow helped establish VW as the powerful global brand that it is today.

But this kind of ad wasn’t just spontaneously created as if by chance, there was no luck involved. When he founded DDB, Bernbach set out to create an agency that would make ads like this. Nor were the award-winning ads that DDB have produced for VW for decades since born out of serendipity. They have been forged from a number of things that DDB and VW got right – including the right talent, the right strategy, the right tone of voice.

Most importantly, perhaps, DDB and VW deliberately and consciously risked that this ad would likely be misunderstood by a few readers of the magazines in which it appeared. However, offsetting that risk was the greater engagement and entertainment of the many readers who would choose to read further and wanted to understand what it was all about.

This ad was arguably one of the first advertising gorillas i.e. a term I have coined for ads that stop people in their tracks, create higher impact that their media investment would achieve and, above all, deliver great business results for the advertiser. Such ads take guts, intuition and trust.

The question is, if that‘s the kind of advertising you need, do you know how to buy a gorilla or do you leave it to chance that you might get one?

David Meikle. Author/Founder How to Buy a Gorilla



Twitter: @htbagorilla.

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