HAPPY 102nd BIRTHDAY BILL... YOUR LEGACY LIVES ON.
Originally posted this March 28th, 2010 as post to introduce the "legends" or the "original" Mad Men of our business to my students. To date this post has had over 7,300 visits. Update 2013 with "Quotable Bernbach'. Enjoy!
Bill Bernbach believed in a simple truth, “In advertising, not to be different is virtual suicide.” From this simple quote he and his legendary colleagues created and made major contributions to what we refer to as the "auteur" of the Creative Revolution. or advertising's "Golden Age".
He was a philosopher, a scientist, a humanitarian. And his influence was felt well beyond the world of advertising.
Bill Bernbach indeed changed the face of advertising forever.
In the rich history of the advertising, there were far more David Oglivy's, Hal Riney's and Shirley Polykoff's than there were Bill Bernbach's.
Hey, he sold a post war America that defeated the Nazi's a German car, the Volkswagen and convinced a the nation "You Don't Have to be Jewish to Love Levy's" rye bread".
When Advertising Age published their "Advertising Century" issue in 1999, they referred to Bernbach's creative revolution as "the most influential" and the Bernbach name was "the hands-down winner" as the number one " Advertising Person of the Century". When defining Bernbach they added he created the "devising creative yardstick by which most advertising today is measured."In the same issue, DDB's included 1959's "Think Small" Volkswagen advertisements, which was voted the No. 1 campaign of all time in Advertising Age’s 1999 “The Century of Advertising.
The Beginning of the Creative Revolution
On June 1, 1949, Bill Bernbach opened Doyle Dane Bernbach. Joined by partners Ned Doyle, Maxwell Dane they started what would become better known as DDB and the creative agency that began a creative revolution with 13 employees, one client and a point of view that was very different from any other agency that existed at the time: that good taste, good art and good writing could be good selling.
DDB opened its spartan offices at 350 Madison Avenue. All 13 employees came from the ranks of Grey Advertising where Bernbach truly established himself as a writer and found his "creative" voice. The exodus from Grey included the cream of its copy and art departments, Phyllis Robinson and Bob Gage. The Grey exodus also included DDB's first client, Orbach's department store. Each principal had his job to do, a division of labor that kept them out of each others hair. "There was no strongest among us," Max Dane once said, "We each had our function and never had to fight the others for authority. Ned handled the clients. Bill produced the product. And I ran the infrastructure and even a little public relations. I never told Bill that for several years I had earned my living as a copywriter with the agency."
DDB invented the "Creative Team", the art and copy team concept, by pairing Bob Gage Hall of Fame Art Director & Phyllis Robinson copywriter. History refers to them as the first "Creative Team", the original art and copy combination. In the early 1960s another Art Director named George Lois would work on the legendary Volkswagen ads "Think small" and "Lemon".
Bernbach the ad man "philosopher" believed to be interesting you have to say things in ways other people don’t—but can still relate to. "To be heard, you have to say interesting things as often and in as many places as possible. To be understood, you have to communicate clearly. And to tell the truth, you have to tell the truth, which can be found in everything. For example, Satan is undeniably “the most evil man in the world,” so if you are ever hired by the devil to sell more immorality, brand him as such in a creatively loud way and you’re gold".
Bernbach's advertising philosophy went contrary to convention. His ads were always fresh, simple, and intelligent, yet exuded energy. He advocated a soft-sell technique to draw in the consumer that resulted in the product not getting lost in the advertising.
Simplicity was another quality exhibited in Bernbach’s work. His copywriting philosophy revolved around the idea that persuasion was the purpose of advertising and that only a simple approach would "make crystal clear and memorable the message of the advertisement." By incorporating creativity, simplicity and humor into his advertisements, Bernbach was able to create some of the most successful campaigns in the history of advertising.
Bernbach believed that copy is more important than market research, graphs, formal presentations and much of the other paraphernalia that dominate many agencies of the era, he said in a 1958 Time Magazine article that, "We get people to look and listen by being good artists and writers. We don't expect of research what it is unable to do. It won't give you a great idea."
Bernbach never believed in à la mode advertising. His creative philosophy was outlined in a guide he once wrote:
“Merely to let your imagination run riot, to dream unrelated dreams, to indulge in graphic acrobatics and verbal gymnastics is not being creative. The creative person has harnessed his imagination. He has disciplined it so that every thought, every idea, every line he draws, every light and shadow in every photograph he takes, makes more vivid, more believable, more persuasive the original theme or product advantage he has decided he must convey.”If Bernbach believed a product could not live up to its advertising, he would not take on the client.
He strongly believed that advertising success hinged on the quality of the product. One of Bernbach’s most quoted lines is "[N]othing makes a bad product fail faster than a great advertising campaign." This guiding principle led DDB to select only products that could live up to their advertising.
In the book "Ad Land - A Global Advertising History" by Mark Tungate writes
"DDB was more like a hip jazz combo than an advertising agency" and Bernbach once compared its work to that of jazz great Thelonius Monk, founder of bebop (1)As a leader it is clear Bernbach was not afraid to be visible, tap into the culture of the time and break down barriers. He was also very clear about the type of people he wanted to recruit. He insisted the people hired fulfill two requirements: They had to be talented and they had to be nice. “If you were nice but without talent, we were very sorry but you just wouldn’t do,” he observed. “We had to ‘make it,’ and only great talent would help us do that. If you were a great talent but not a nice person, we had no hesitation in saying ‘no.’ Life is too short to sacrifice so much of it to living with a bastard.” (2). True to his beliefs, and borrowing from his mentor, William Weintraub, DDB was the first to hire ethnic minorities and women into visible and decision-making positions.
William (Bill) Bernbach - The Man
Bernbach liked to hint that he came from a deprived background, saying that "he had no middle name because his parent’s couldn’t afford one". However, his family was better off than most, his father being described by Bernbach as "an austere but elegant designer of women’s clothes".
He attended New York University, receiving a bachelor's degree in literature in 1933. Bernbach also pursued studies in art, philosophy, and business administration that would serve him well during his career.
Job hunting during the Depression years would be a challenge as he decided upon advertising as his preferred field, he was unable to obtain work.
As many of "legendary", Bernbach started at the bottom of the corporate ladder, the mailroom of Schenley Distillers Company. But he always seemed to have his mind focused on an advertising career, he found himself spending his free hours creating ads, and once submitted one of his ads to Schenley's in-house advertising department but received no response. Soon after his submission he would see his ideas and words appear exactly as he had written them, in the New York Time Sunday Magazine. With some anger in his blood, the young Bernbach in a masterstroke of networking he made the acquaintance and made sure that Lewis Rosenthiel, the president of Schenley knew of the ad's true origin and creator. Rosenthiel appreciated Bernbach's creative spirit, and gave Bernbach a raise and placed him in the advertising department. He had begun his ad "agency" career as a writer with the opening of William Weintraub & Co. in 1942, but the following year he would join the army and spend two years in the army before returning to advertising and taking a job at Grey Advertising.
In 1945 Bernbach, became the Vice President of the Grey Art and Copy departments. There, while working on the account of Ohrbach's, a low-priced Manhattan and Los Angeles department store, he stressed sophistication instead of price with the eye-catching illustration and a minimum of copy that later became his trademark, best scene in Ohrbach's "Cat" ad. But he found his style crimped by conventional ad concepts. He left Grey in early 1949 to form DDB with Grey Vice President Ned Doyle and a friend, Maxwell Dane. To no ones surprise he took the Ohrbach account along as the nucleus of the new agency.
But no bigger tribute or achievement would be made when he was inducted into the Art Directors Club of New York in 1983. It was said that Bill Bernbach was a discoverer and he was the art director’s first great benefactor. He loved to discover art directors; and he loved to purr and revel at their magical power to conjure images. So there was no way that Bernbach would start the world’s first "creative agency" (having worked with the dazzling Paul Rand) without Bob Gage, Bernbach’s most inspired discovery, and years later George Lois.
The Bernbach Effect
Bernbach stressed a simplicity, but a striking idea, a specific selling point that got across a message without a lot of talk. He had a disdain for the use of gimmicks to lure readers. Said he: "A picture of a man standing on his head would get attention, but the reader would feel tricked by the gimmick-unless, of course, we were trying to sell a gadget to keep change in his pocket."
He got a reputation for being an adman's adman, for putting small accounts on a level with big ones.
He made an once obscure New York bread one of the city's best known with ads showing nibbled slices and the message, "New York is eating it up." Among the agency's other memorable ideas came for Israel's El Al airline's new, faster Britannia plane service, with a picture of the Atlantic Ocean one-fifth torn away ""Starting Dec. 23, the Atlantic Ocean will be 20% smaller".
Great writing and simple visual were his trademark on the breakthrough work created for Volkswagen, other notable campaigns of Bernbach's and DDB are "We Try Harder" for Avis Car Rental", created "Mikey" for Life Cereal, "You Don't Have to be Jewish to Love Levy's" for Levy's Rye Bread and "It's so simple" made Polaroid a household camera.
What Made the Bernbach Effect Different?
But how did the decade of the Sixties differ from the decade of the Fifties? There was a summary that appeared on a blog called The Brand Strategy Insider that analyzed 146 automobile advertisements from the 1950s and compared them with the Volkswagen ad:
Almost all of the 1950s auto ads (137 advertisements, or 94 percent) showed people in the ads. How else was a creative director going to demonstrate the pleasure that car buyers might feel about their new acquisitions?
Almost all of them (135 advertisements, or 92 percent) used artwork, not photography. How else was a creative director going to make the cars look long and low and beautiful?
Most of them (102 or 70 percent) used multiple illustrations. Some single-page advertisements had as many as eight separate illustrations. How else was a creative director going to communicate all of the car’s exciting features except by using a number of different illustrations?
Almost all the ads were in color with hand-lettered headlines, big illustrations and large logotypes. How else was a creative director going to communicate the excitement of buying a new car?
Some typical automobile headlines from the 1950s:
Buick: “You can make your ‘someday’ come true now.
Cadillac: “Maybe this will be the year.”
Oldsmobile: “You’ve got to drive it to believe it!”
Chevrolet: “Filled with grace and great new things.”
Now compare these ads with “Think small.” The Volkswagen ad was in black and white with a small illustration, lots of white space and a headline totally lacking in news value. Everybody knew that Beetles were small cars.
At the time the ad ran, Volkswagen had been in the American market for nine years, had sold more than 350,000 vehicles and had generated a lot of favorable publicity.
As our industry is currently under a new a new "creative revolution", but this one is being lead and influenced by technology first. But it to be compared to the "original revolution", we must remember it was Bernbach's ideas and keen insights into human nature may be more relevant than ever. His timeless words have inspired thousands of creative men and women around the world. They have the power to inspire many more.
The advertising industry worships the creative process. At Cannes and at countless other places, the industry lavishes praise on its creative folks. The people who think up these wonderful ads. But it’s a rare individual who is good at recognizing the power of an idea once it is created. Bill Bernbach was one of those rare masters.
Hmmmmm, I wonder what he might have said about the Press Grand Prix winner at Cannes?
Much to be learned from the masters that came before us.
Great insights in the inner workings of motivated Mr. Bernbach can be found in these quotes.
Below are a series interviews featuring Bill Bernbach and George Lois who at one time was a art director at DDB, plus a series of legendary DDB television ads created during the "Creative Revolution" era.
Bill Bernbach on Advertising ~ Part One Intro
Bill Bernbach on Advertising ~ Part Two
Bill Bernbach on Advertising ~ Part Three
George Lois Talks About Bernbach
George Lois on The Creative Revelution
Retrospective of Bill Bernbach / DDB Work
Volkswagen "Funeral" (The Spot that actually got me into this crazy business)
Volkswagen "Keeping Up With The Klemplers"
McDonalds "Two All Beef Patties"
Alka Seltzer "Spicy Meatball"
American Tourister "Goes Ape"
Video Retrospective of Print Ads