Volkswagen 358, sometimes referred to as “lemon,” is a screenprint created by Andy Warhol for his Ads series in 1985, featuring an ad for a Volkswagen car that was published in 1960. Warhol portrays the iconic car in a vibrant green and yellow against a dark purple background that emphasizes the iconism of both the car and the advertisement itself.
The infamous ad depicted in Volkswagen 358 is commonly referred to as “Lemon,” or “the Lemon ad,” and it changed the advertising world during the mid 20th century. In the late 1950s, after World War II, Volkswagen (VW) was eager to sell their cars in America and compete with leading automotive brands. The obvious problem was that VW was created under Adolf Hitler’s direct supervision, and now the company needed to market their vehicles to thousands of veterans returning to the US (who were all buying cars at record rates). By referring to their car as a Lemon (a defective or cheaply made foreign car) VW presents a very counterintuitive and unexpected advertising campaign. The use of this self-deprecating humor proved to be extremely effective, though, and many have said that the Volkswagen ads of the late 50s and early 60s changed the marketing world forever. The gist of the ad is basically this: VW presents what appears to be a brand new, spotless Volkswagen bug, then labels it a lemon. The copy goes on to say that VW’s cars are so carefully inspected, that even scratches that are hardly visible to the human eye are considered cause enough to return the car to the production line and replace the “defective part.” Such a genius and era-defining marketing campaign makes this advertisement perfect for Warhol’s Ads portfolio.
In Ads, Warhol explores how these widely recognized emblems, trademarks and logos have become symbolic to the American consumer. Volkswagen recently reproduced their iconic Beetle ad with their new electric van, suggesting, like Warhol, that their advertising is timeless. At first glance, Warhol’s inclusion of the German car among his other Ads prints is an interesting choice, as the reception of the Volkswagen Beetle in the United States was initially divisive. But it’s clear that Warhol created Volkswagen 358 with a clear understanding of the impact that VW made on the advertisement industry.
Volkswagen 358 (Lemon) by Andy Warhol as Part of His Larger Body of Work
The Ads series contains images ranging from the Mobil Gas logo to Judy Garland as a spokeswoman for Blackglama Furs. Along with his obsession with celebrity, Warhol took great interest in the role of advertisements in consumerism and the extent to which the title of celebrity may be associated with a product. The series was created towards the end of his life, as he looked back on the images that inspired him and the themes that remained prominent throughout his career.