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book review : getting the bugs out (Tuesday October 23rd, 2001 - 00:00)

category: mmhuh?

written for Brand Republic

Getting the Bugs Out – The Rise, Fall and Comeback of Volkswagen in America
David Kiley

Getting the Bugs Out is the history, for better and worse, of Volkswagen in the US, writes Niina Talikka.

David Kiley bought a white 1964 Volkswagen Beetle in 1982 while he took a year off college. His favourite teachers drove Beetles. He admits to a “subconscious love” with the Beetle. Despite such a personal relationship with the vehicle, he provides an objective look at the history of Volkswagen’s rollercoaster of turbulent sales, quality and management in the US.

In the late Forties and Fifties, the US was wary of Volkswagen and its German origins, labelling the Beetle “Hitler’s car”. As road tests on the Beetle began to describe it favourably, and DDB applied a fresh approach to its advertising, sales rose and by 1968 the Beetle held 5% of the US market.

Volkswagen faced increasing competition in the Seventies. Under poor management and plagued with reliability problems, sales declined until the early Nineties when enormous changes in personnel and the replacement of DDB Needham started the comeback.

The hype caused by the presentation of Concept 1 at the Detroit Auto Show in 1994, its development as the New Beetle and subsequent launch in 1998 returned consumer enthusiasm for Volkswagen and boosted sales.

The strength in Getting the Bugs Out lies in the detailed account of the relationship between the brand and the advertising agency. Kiley provides us with a seat for the pitch process and delves into the state of mind of the competing agencies. He examines the success of the classic ads for the original Beetle, the hit-and-miss campaigns towards the end of the Volkswagen/DDB Needham relationship, and Arnold’s “drivers wanted” comeback campaign.

The importance of the correct advertising in Volkswagen survival is unmistakable in the sales figures and consumer statistics.

Kiley’s research not only provides quotes from key people in the history of Volkswagen, but extensively documents their character, the reactions they create, and even their dress sense. These minute observations turn Volkswagen’s history into a complex story rather than a standard textbook business case which it could never claim to be.

This is not just a journey through the Volkswagen factory but a thorough exploration of all the elements that have allowed Volkswagen to succeed — the business leadership; the manufacturing process; the advertising and the agencies that created them; and two US designers who decided to push their idea of the New Beetle.

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