Len Sirowitz, Whose Bold, Offbeat Ads Captured an Era, Dies at 91

Len Sirowitz, an award-winning advertising art director whose creative work in the 1960s included memorable print ads for the Volkswagen Beetle — like one declaring, “Ugly is only skin-deep” — and a campaign for Mobil in which a car was dropped off a 10-story building to make a point about the perils of speeding, died on March 4 at his home in Manhattan. He was 91.

His daughter, Laura Sirowitz, confirmed the death.

Mr. Sirowitz joined the influential Doyle Dane Bernbach advertising agency, known as DDB, in 1959, at 27, and spent the next 11 years at the firm conceiving the look of ads for numerous accounts with wit and passion.

It was quite early in my career that I began to realize that my message needed to not only be bold and daring, but it must stem from the truth … and touch people’s emotions,” he told Dave Dye, who runs the advertising blog From the Loft, in 2015.

Volkswagen was perhaps Mr. Sirowitz’s most important account, and the homely Beetle, nicknamed the “Bug,” was his and copywriter Robert Levenson’s automotive muse. Their collaborations for the German car maker included the ad “Will We Ever Kill the Bug?” in which they positioned a Beetle turned on its roof, like a dead bug. The answer to the question: “Never.” (Though, after a few shots of the car, its roof collapsed.)

Mr. Sirowitz designed advertisements for the Volkswagen Beetle, poking fun at the car’s homely appearance.Credit…Doyle Dane Bernbach for Volkswagen
Mr. Sirowitz’s campaign also leaned in to the Volkswagen Beetle’s name, posing the car as a dead bug.Credit…Doyle Dane Bernbach for Volkswagen

The pair also devised an ad that showed a motley Beetle constructed of green and beige fenders, a blue hood and a turquoise door, which were cobbled together from models between 1958 and 1964. The ad stressed the ease with which owners could find parts.

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