Exploring the Volkswagen’s Pop Culture Odyssey

January 3rd, 2024 by

Taking strange detours over the course of a road trip is nothing new. That’s why every long, winding road has billboards advertising everything from discount diners to caves of wonder. 

But Volkswagen’s gradual immersion into the world of pop culture has been nothing short of an odyssey. From cameos on Beatles album covers to supporting roles in Oscar-winning films, the Volkswagen has been engraved in the annals of pop culture since its revolutionary ad campaigns started surfacing in the late 1950’s.  

Courtesy of Volkswagen of Macon, today we take a look back at Volkswagen’s winding path to pop culture stardom. 

Commercial Appeal 

Volkswagen changed the world of automotive advertising in the late 50’s and early 60’s with a bold ad campaign that the boys at Sterling Cooper couldn’t wrap their heads around. First was 1959’s “Think Small” advertisement, in which VW took out a full-page ad but left over half of it blank – thereby emphasizing the Beetle’s unique, diminutive stature. 

But their masterpiece might have been the follow-up, 1960’s “Lemon” ad. By freely associating themselves with such a taboo automotive phrase, Volkswagen turned self-deprecation into a form of endearment. By weeding out potential deficiencies, they were able to highlight what was special about the Beetle. 

Volkswagen’s penchant for attention-grabbing advertisements hasn’t waned in the 21st century. In 2011 their Hollywood and advertising sensibilities combined in one of the most acclaimed Super Bowl ads in recent memory. Dubbed “The Force,” the Cannes-winning ad saw a young child dressed as Darth Vader mentally influencing a VW Passat (with an assist from dad’s key fob.) The ad has since amassed millions of views on Youtube. 

Meet the Beetle 

The Volkswagen Beetle began taking Hollywood by storm with 1969’s second-highest grossing film, The Love Bug. Starring a sentient VW Beetle named Herbie, the comedy helped turn Volkswagen into a household name in America. (Four theatrical Herbie sequels would follow, the latest of which was 2005’s Herbie Fully Loaded.) 

Ironically enough, the Beetle’s next foray into stardom came courtesy of… The Beatles. With Beetlemania and Beatlemania intersecting at the same time, the band chose to feature a VW Beetle on the iconic album cover of 1969’s Abbey Road (the final album the band recorded, although 1970’s Let It Be would be the last one released). 

Cheeky wordplay aside, the Bug’s inclusion on the cover was appropriate for the era. Like rock and roll music itself, the Beetle had come to represent counterculture ideologies. The West was experiencing a shift in how people (young people, in particular) viewed things like sexuality and the Vietnam War. Somewhere along the line, the VW Beetle became the ride of choice for outcasts, hippies, and other likeminded individuals. 

The Bug and Bus Take Hollywood 

Volkswagen’s pop culture ubiquitousness has now stretched well into the 21st century. The Beetle would continue to make memorable film cameos outside of the Herbie films. It appeared in box office smashes like 1999’s Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me and 2007’s Transformers.  

Lest the Beetle hog the spotlight, however, Volkswagen added a second film star in 2006’s Little Miss Sunshine. In the Sundance-winning film, a family travels across the country in a bright yellow, 1971 T2 Bus. The VW bus was featured heavily on posters and other marketing promos leading up to the movie’s release. Today, it’s synonymous with the charming indie film, which would go on to win two Oscars and collect over $100 million at the box office – more than a dozen times its budget. 

The Volkswagen T2 Bus had appeared in over 80 films to that point, including Back to the Future (1985), Free Willy (1993), Almost Famous (2000), and Hulk (2003). But Little Miss Sunshine gave it a renaissance in the form of a starring role. 

Your Close-Up Awaits 

Here at Volkswagen of Macon, you can count on us for award-quality service. Grab some popcorn and check out our wide variety of new and pre-owned vehicles, from the Atlas Cross Sport to the new Jetta GLI. You’ll feel like a movie star when you’re sitting behind the wheel of your new Volkswagen. Come in for a test drive and begin your own journey today. 

Posted in Volkswagen History