Helmut Krone

Krone’s VW Campaign- “Will we ever kill the bug?”[7]

Through striking imagery, clever campaigns, and unique perspectives, Helmut Krone ushered in the new generation of modern advertising utilizing just one charming staple of the 1960’s: the Volkswagen Beetle.  The iconic art director was born on July 16th, 1925, in Yorkville New York. At a young age, Helmut became fascinated with industrial design. Pursuing his passion, he enrolled in the School of Industrial art in hopes he would become a product designer. Krone’s first job was working with designer Robert Greenwell to complete freelance advertisements for magazines. It wasn’t until he visited an Art Directors Show at the age of twenty-five that Helmut realized he could combine his love of industrial design with advertising. It was there that he was introduced to the up-and-coming marketing agency Doyle Dane Bernbach. Krone joined DDB just four years after the show in 1954 marking the start of his impressive career [1].

The 1960’s automotive market saw big changes in imports. From 1966 to 1969, net imports increased at an average annual rate of 84% [2]. Of those imports, the Volkswagen Beetle was the best seller. It was around this time that Krone was tasked with creating copy for the petite car. Originally, he got the account since he was “the only one who had ever heard of the car” [4]. He understood that it would take an unusual approach to represent an unusual car. Credited as one of his most iconic works, Helmut decided to print the little car in the upper left corner of an otherwise bare page. The car was shrunk to be no more than an inch and the caption read “Think Small” [3]. It was this simple ad that went on to define an entire decade’s worth of creative advertising in the industry. He continued this approach throughout the campaign by displaying straightforward images of the cars and accompanying them with captions such as “Lemon” and “Why the engine in the back?”.

Krone’s Iconic “Lemon” Advertisement [7]

Krone’s biggest critique of current advertising was that everyone seemed to be following the same rubric. He stated in an interview with Think Magazine “they think that being current, being fashionable is being new. And it’s really the opposite of new”” [4]. One way Helmut displayed his fresh approach to marketing was by leveraging honesty. In 1962, Hertz was leading the rental car market. This put Avis (the number 2 rental company) in a dire situation to create a new advertising campaign. Helmut rose to the scene when Avis partnered with his ad agency DDB. Utilizing the power of honesty that worked flawlessly in the VW campaign, he came up with the million-dollar tag line “When you’re only No.2 you try harder”. This sparked the lucrative “We Try Harder” campaign. Avis went from a deficit of $3.2 million to earning $1.2 million; the first time they were profitable in over a decade [5].

Possibly it was simplicity that gave Krone’s art an edge in the industry. In one interview Helmut stated “I’ve spent my whole life fighting logos. Logos say I am an ad. Turn the page. I don’t just leave out the logo. I give something better. I try to make the page so clean and effective; you can’t stick a logo on it” [1]. One glance at Krone’s work and the viewer is captured by the clean lines, pages, and honest tag lines. His work was successful in removing the sales pitch aspect that would typically drive someone’s attention away. Robert Levenson went was far as to say “Mr. Krone served as an architect, building advertising campaigns that have been able to endure for decades” [6].

When asked who influenced him the most in life Helmut mentioned the impact his German parents had on him as a professional. He stated, “I worked just like my father and my mother worked. My father was an orthopedic shoemaker, and my mother was a seamstress, and I believe that they were probably the best shoemaker and seamstress in America.” [4]. Although Helmet never defined himself as a perfectionist, his colleagues often described him as the hardest working man in the room.

Krone left Doyle Dane in 1969 to form is own agency but returned a few years later as executive vice president-creative director at the newly named DDB Needham. In total his career with DDB lasted over 40 years. He passed on April 12th, 1996, at the age of 70 from lung cancer [6]. It was Krone’s out of the box thinking, risky approaches, and perfectionism that has continued to make an impact on the marketing industry decades after his retirement.



  1. http://adcglobal.org/hall-of-fame/helmut-krone/
  2. https://fraser.stlouisfed.org/title/economic-quarterly-federal-reserve-bank-richmond-960/november-1970-37804/foreign-automobile-sales-united-states-174839
  3. https://designobserver.com/feature/helmut-krone-period/4657
  4. https://www.think.cz/english/people/an-interview-with-helmut-krone
  5. https://slate.com/business/2013/08/hertz-vs-avis-advertising-wars-how-an-ad-firm-made-a-virtue-out-of-second-place.html
  6. https://www.nytimes.com/1996/04/13/nyregion/helmut-krone-70-a-creator-of-ad-campaigns.html
  7. https://www.graphis.com/master-portfolio-slideshow/helmut-krone/advertising