By on January 15, 2013

Gerd, Bertel, Gerd, 1974 – Volkswagen artwork on the wall

You know you are getting old – when Volkswagen praises you as a part of its heritage. This year, it will become 40 years that I said “sure” after someone asked me whether I would want to be a copywriter in an advertising agency. One of my first jobs was the launch campaign for the Volkswagen Golf, which hit the showrooms in Germany and Europe in early 1974, and soon became a hit. Volkswagen and I stuck together until 2007. I experienced a part of auto history, but I never thought I would be turned into a museum piece.

To celebrate the launch of the Golf, Volkswagen’s Heritage Dept. tracked me down in my love nest in Tokyo. Their mission: To relive how the ads and catalogs for the Golf were made.  The interview can be found here at Volkswagen’s Classic website – it’s in German, and I am too embarrassed to translate the thing.

First Golf Ad 1974

The story, which finally turns me into a dinosaur, comes with two rare artifacts of car history:

  • The full version of the launch catalog for the Volkswagen Golf
  • A series of never before published outrageous Polaroids from back when, out of the collection of my dear friend and then Art Director Gerd Hiepler.

Divine inspiration, please: Bertel and Gerd

The prayer picture is especially historically important: There, we pray for heavenly intuition, or at least divine inspiration for an advertising campaign, not for the Golf, but for tires by Continental. At the time, Dr. Carl Hahn was CEO of Continental. A little later, he took over at Volkswagen. Next to Ferdinand Piech, Carl Hahn was the most important CEO of Volkswagen.

Impressions of the wild times many years ago can be found at the (now officially sanctioned) Autobiography of BS.  Prices for the book and the movie now skyrocketed – I hope.

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14 Comments on “Volkswagen Honors BS As Ancient Dinosaur. Part Of Golf History Relived...”

  • avatar

    Good stuff. It’s always interesting to read about your automotive background.

  • avatar

    I ran the interview through Google Translate, since I don’t speak German. It was good enough to get an idea of how dinosaurs lived in the 70s. :)

    Seriously, your experience brings invaluable benefit to TTAC. Congratulations on the honor, and keep up the good work!

  • avatar

    Bertel, this is quite interesting. And makes me miss the Golf I that I drove as a teen.
    One question came to me when remembering VW’s product launches in the mid 70s (Polo, Golf, Passat, Scirocco): How came the idea to name the most plebeian car (Polo) after one of the most elitary sports one can think of?

    • 0 avatar

      At the time, Golf was thought to be even more elitist. This was 70’s Germany. Only filthy rich people played Golf. Polo was so way out there, nobody realized that it even was a sport.

      The headline on the ad plays off the Golf/Golf antithesis: “The new people’s sport: Golf.” In the interview, I explain that this would be impossible today, not on message, wrong target group, no sports car. Back then, agency and client simply thought it’s a funny line, and a swell idea, and let’s go with it. Nobody did care.

      At the time, there were two schools of names: Sports (Polo, Golf, Gol …) and winds (Passat, Scirocco ..) Both ran out of steam quickly.

      • 0 avatar

        “The new people’s sport: Golf.”

        Given the sport at the time was only enjoyed by the super rich, I think this is very clever for a “people’s car”

    • 0 avatar
      Robert Gordon

      Every worthwhile source I can find attributes the name Golf to the ‘Gulf Stream’ not the game. While technically not a wind, it fits into the elemental naming pattern.

      Many also attribute the ‘Polo’ name to the Polar Wind.

      • 0 avatar

        They are mistaken and not worthwhile. They try to rearrange chaos into logic. Common mistake.

        As someone who was there, I can tell you as a primary source that there never was any OFFICIAL system, there were just names. OFFICIALLY, logic-obsessed VW would have never admitted to competing messes.

        Unofficially, there were hints, such as the people’s sport in the headline, or the golf ball as a shifter knob in the GTI. This would have been absolutely senseless with a gulf stream, which is no wind anyway.

        And Polo and Polar wind? Give me a break.

        Trust me, it was sports and winds, until they ran out of both.

        BTW, as part of our job, we had to come up with long lists of names for new cars. The names were never taken. It remained a secret who created and decided the name. According to rumor, it was the wives or girl friends of the board members.

  • avatar

    When you sell the movie rights, hold out for final say on the actor who plays you. Otherwise you’ll have Taylor Lautner showing off his abs as he works shirtless in the office, or Justin Bieber belting out a tune. You don’t want THAT do you?

  • avatar

    We’re still waiting on that book, Bertel!

    Fascinating, I didn’t know people assumed “Golf” meant “Gulf”. Perhaps the golf-ball shifter isn’t suggestive enough?

  • avatar

    Congratulations. I feel a little dinosaury also remembering my only Golf (a used Rabbit from Tennessee) was a ’74 with front drum brakes. Still recall the ad from 35 years ago where the old frame had a new body going on while proclaiming ‘Detroit makes it look new.’
    Your ads sold the cars, which are still selling.
    I try to remember all the Horizon/Omni, Chevette/T1000, B210/310, GLC, Fuego, etc., that have come and gone, while the Golf continues. Good job.

  • avatar

    Out of curiosity, Bertel, where does Heinrich Nordhoff rank on your list?

  • avatar
    Muttley Alfa Barker

    Part 1 of the interview (translated):

    The phone rings with double tone, also the Japanese voice at the other end sounds unusual. Then Bertel Schmitt is personally in it: He stamped year in 1949, adoptive country Tokyo, till 2007 the writing style of Volkswagen with.

    Bertel Schmitt was a script writer, then creative Director and, finally, managers of the advertising agency GGK Dusseldorf. Late Executive Vice President with Lois, Pitts, Gershon, Pon/GGK, New York as well as managing partner of count, Bertel, Buczek, New York and Dusseldorf. He looked from 1973 to 2007 after Volkswagen: As a Copywriter stamped he and his employees for decades typical Volkswagen tone in catalogues and prospectuses. How he found again his prospectuses recently in the museum and why to a good script writer cars should be best of all completely schnuppe, he betrays during the interview.

    Mr. Schmitt, you have written about 35 years Volkswagen Copytexte*. How does such a thing happen?

    Bertel Schmitt: From chance. A friendly Dusseldorf creative Director asked me, the journalist whether I could step in with a job. If I have acted. And then I should sign with GGK immediately a festival contract. The money was right, so I was with in the boat.

    Are you an autofan, was the Volkswagen job thrilling for you?

    Schmitt: I, autofan? Not at all, zero. With me the car is always the best what lies on my desk for writing the words. Four cylinders – fantastically, five cylinders – better than four cylinders, diesel engine – wonderfully, water cooling – quite excellently!

    How sobering…

    Schmitt: Yes and no. I see this in such a way: If you want to promote cars really well, you may take nobody who has of it too much notion. Or even enthusiast is. Distance protect, neutral remain – this is the recipe for success in my eyes. Thus I was seen perfectly for the job because I had zero notion of cars.

    Script writer Bertel Schmitt:
    His texts stamped Volkswagen announcements and prospectuses

    Wolfsburg world premiere:
    The very first golf, the very first catalogue

    How were the test runs then in Wolfsburg with the brand-new, confidential golf?

    Schmitt: Wonderfully. I had nothing to do. During the first seven years I not even had a driving licence. And afterwards only one American one. Mr. Plamböck of the central sales promotion at that time went, and I asked for his driving impressions.

    Which project for Volkswagen do you remember particularly?

    Schmitt: My first poster for Volkswagen was a beetle embroidered on jeans. This was the main salary of the golf: He permitted that the beetle might become more human more brightly. One could say it maybe so: the tolerated dishonouring of the deadly serious beetle.

    How has your agency approached to the job to conceive the first golf prospectus?

    Schmitt: Art Director and script writer consisted, Scribbles originated, the important structure and sequence of the sides were fixed, then everybody made his job. In our case it was a matter above all of transporting the important facts of the hope bearer’s golf clearly.

    So, how do you describe this, does it not sound after particularly a lot of stress?

    Schmitt: When I started, one said: „In the advertisement it is stressful!” I did not feel it, however, in such a way. The writing gave a lot of pleasure to me, only the next vote with the engineers was tough from the point of view of the script writer a little bit, but was inevitable of course. There were always supplement wishes: This is absent, this was wrong, this still has to go with in…

    And the golf, how you have met him? How was the mood in Wolfsburg?

    Schmitt: As said – as a canvasser the car had to make no difference to me extensively. It was vital: I had to make a good job! And in Wolfsburg many have trembled whether the golf became a success. „No blessing rests on this car!”, even believed some how I heard. Then, besides, it has worked right away! The sparing golf appeared “suitably” to the so-called oil crisis. We thought at that time everybody, soon we drive only bicycle…

    • 0 avatar
      Muttley Alfa Barker

      Part 2 (translated):

      Thought, written, printed: During 35 years Bertel Schmitt texts wrote for Volkswagen prospectuses.
      “The new popular sport: Golf.”

      Was it then easy from your view to put through good ideas in the advertisement?

      Schmitt: I give sometimes an example: We created a golf poster – a piece of art lawns with a pendant on it and the new golf. The slogan: “The new popular sport: Golf.” Today this would be more difficult in my opinion.


      Schmitt: Today the focus on the target group is more important. And at least at that time golf as a popular sport – this was not right!

      So: There is nothing good, except one does it?

      Schmitt: Yes and no. At that time the responsible people in Volkswagen were with us under a common creative cover. They have recognised this immediately if was a little bit good. However, they have also noticed and said if it has not been carrying away sometimes. I will never forget the presentation of which defective quality I was persuaded, actually, already while getting into the train in Dusseldorf. “This is all dung what I have here!”, I think with myself. Then, by the presentation, I work with my black cardboards, talked and talked, there interrupted Dieter Buczek, at that time advertising manager of Volkswagen: “Nevertheless, Bertel, this is not your seriousness.” I was made easier: “Is this called, now I may stop?” We had to laugh both, the next draught was much better really again.

      Have you written the words to the golf, actually, also sometimes as beetle heirs?

      Schmitt: No, never! This was completely prohibited – the beetle was still produced. Really nobody dared to take the concept “Successor” in the mouth.

      However, the need to the change was aware to all?

      Schmitt: Yes. Absolutely. Only one did not know in 1973/1974 just yet whether the golf really brings the big change, this still turned out only afterwards.

      By the way: They have grown up in Tokyo and China at home, born in Bad Kissingen, in Munich, occasionally you lived in New York – do you still own some of your old Volkswagen prospectuses?

      Schmitt: None, I have nothing more! My camp in China burnt itself down, my cellar on Long Iceland had run after a storm completely water – I could throw away everything.

      When have you seen at last one of “your” Volkswagen prospectuses?

      Schmitt: Years ago in the Natural History museum in Washington! As an example for – mass production…! (laughs)

      What was then looking back your biggest “legacy” for the writing style of the Volkswagen advertisement?

      Schmitt: The abolition of the hyphens. With the complexity of the technology more and more hyphens walked along. When they got out of control, I abolished them. From “Heckscheiben-Wisch-Wasch-Anlage” piece of bumf and Washing arrangement” became „rear windows and so forth. The Volkswagen advertisement was free of hyphen. It hailed protest writing of secondary school teachers. Our standard letter in reply started: “Concerns: Their hyphen letter.” Then the upper teachers got angry and created the “idiot’s blank” as a counterpropaganda. But we strictly remained with the hyphen Losigkeit – in any case, till 2007.

      * Copytext or Copy calls the assembly-line text of an announcement, a sales prospectus etc. in the advertising branch.
      previous page 12
      Page 1: “As a canvasser the car must make no difference to you.”
      Page 2: “The new popular sport: Golf.”

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