He loved everything about America, with one notable exception -- the advertising. And one of the first things Hahn had to do at VWoA was create a campaign.
"I had seen at least 10 agency presentations on Madison Avenue," he said. "I considered American advertising philosophy quite primitive and awful."
Pennsylvania distributor Arthur Stanton recommended he consider Doyle, Dane, Bernbach, a small agency that couldn't afford offices on Madison Avenue.
Hahn was nervous about giving the entire VW account to DDB, so he awarded the truck business to another agency. Within a year DDB had fully proven itself and was given the whole shebang.
Built around the theme "Think small," VW's advertising was smart, self-deprecating, understated and hilarious.
Early on, Hahn took Bill Bernbach to Wolfsburg to see the factory and absorb the company's philosophy. He introduced his ad man to Nordhoff.
"I had a very close relationship with Bernbach," says Hahn. "I found enormous creativity on their side. Their advertising was strong, humorous, sophisticated and had a heart, like the car. There was an enormous symbiosis between the advertising and the car."
Would the Beetle phenomenon have happened without Doyle, Dane, Bernbach?
"You have no success when you don't have the right product," says Hahn. "Advertising is not everything, but it is an essential element. Our advertising campaign gave to buyers a very good reason for their decision to buy the car. The advertising made him a very important man. It gave him prestige."
Hahn had a great feel for promotion. Once he had his team search for the oldest VW Beetle in America.
"We found a farmer in Nebraska, an ex-GI who brought the first Beetle over from Europe, in December 1945.
"We brought him to New York and gave him a new car.
"American GIs were our advance team," he says. "They were coming back to the U.S. and knew something about the Volkswagen and VW overseas."
In 1960, Hahn also began pushing sales of the Microbus.
"The car had been around, but we began to emphasize it," he says. "It was more profitable than the Beetle."
Couple with that the profitable and lovely Beetle-based Karmann Ghia, and the money was rolling in.
"In those days VW of America was so profitable," Hahn says. "Money was no object. I remember looking once at the balance sheet of VW of America and there was a credit of $300 million. It was 1.2 billion deutschmarks -- more than the balance sheet of Volkswagen in Germany."
Hahn returned to Germany to take a seat on the VW board of management.
Today he holds a professorship on industrial strategies at a university in eastern Germany. He also is a consultant to foreign governments and is on the board of several companies worldwide.
Hahn calls his business experience in the United States "my MBA."
"I was very young, and I absorbed the United States very fast," he says. "I got a feel for the country, and I got to know and love the United States. We had an unparalleled spirit."
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