Follow in the footsteps of William Bernbach

As I start the blog project, I think it’s important to pay tribute to William Bernbach (August 13, 1911 – October 2, 1982) who once said that “properly practiced creativity can make one ad do the work of ten”. Creativity, innovation and simplicity were his key principles.

Nothing predestined W. Bernbach for advertising. He was born in The Bronx in New York on August 13, 1911. At the age of 21, he graduated from the New York University where he had majored in English and where he also studied business administration, philosophy and music. One year later,  Schenley Distillers hired him to run the mailroom department. He took the initiative to create an ad for the company which led him to the advertising department. This promotion marks the beginning of his successful career.

His unique vision of advertising commands respect. “His philosophy was grounded in the belief that advertising is fundamentally persuasion and persuasion was not a science, but an art.” says DDB on their website. Ad Age highlights the value of respect which W. Bernbach disseminates in all his work : “Bernbach’s advocacy of advertising as art was grounded in the radical notion that the public had to be respected. Underlying respect would encourage favorable reactions to intelligent and imaginative advertising”. It’s also interesting to note that “above all he valued innovation and intuition over science and rules.” as the Advertising Hall recalls.

With two friends of his, Ned Doyle, who he met at Grey agency, and Mac Dane, who already created a tiny agency, W. Bernbach left his mark in the advertising world by creating DDB agency on June 1st, 1949. DDB, standing for Doyle Dane Bernbach. His creativity and his fresh ideas aroused interest. Here are some ads he became famous for.

Name of the campaign : “Think Small”
Client : Volkswagen

The Volkswagen Beetle was manufactured  in Germany in a plant owned by the Nazis fifteen years earlier during the World War II. So there was two challenges. The first one was to make americans, who were (and still are) found of muscle cars, like the strange aspect of the little Beetle. The second was to present the Beetle as a car, and not as The Nazis car. “Think small” was ranked as the best advertising campaign of the twentieth century by Ad Age.

Name of the campaign : “Lemon”
Client : Volkswagen
Name of the campaign : “Gorilla”
Client : American Tourister Luggage

Name of the campaign : “Mikey”
Client : Life Cereal

Name of the campaign : “Mamma Mia”
Client : Alka-Seltzer

Name of the campaign : “Snow-plow”
Client : Volkswagen

Together, W. Bernbach, Ned Doyle and Mac Dane set out to prove to the world that “good taste, good art and good writing could also be good selling”. W. Bernbach was a visionary, and it’s easy to see considering all his famous quotes. Among the most inspiring ones we have :

“We must not just believe in what we sell, we must sell what we believe in.”

 “Nothing makes a bad product fail faster than a great advertising campaign.” 

This was a principle followed by DDB. Indeed, they only accepted to work with a brand if products sold could live up to their advertising.

“The truth isn’t the truth until people believe you, and they can’t believe you if they don’t know what you’re saying, and they can’t know what you’re saying if they don’t listen to you, and they won’t listen to you if you’re not interesting, and you won’t be interesting unless you say things imaginatively, originally, freshly.”

 “It may well be that creativity is the last unfair advantage we’re legally allowed to take over our competitors.”

Bernbach has been a father figure to modern advertising. His work was rewarded several times : “He was inducted into the Copywriters Hall of Fame in 1964, received The Man of the Year of Advertising Award in 1964 and 1965, and The Pulse Inc., Man of the Year Award in 1966. He was also named “Top Advertising Agency Executive” in 1969 and received the American Academy of AchievementAward in 1976 and was inducted into the American Advertising Federation Hall of Fame in the same year. He also designed the Advertising Hall of Fame “Golden Ladder” trophy”.

In 1982, at the age of 71, W. Bernbach died from leukemia. The Art Director, Helmut Krone said at W. Bernbach’s death “He elevated advertising to high art and our jobs to a profession.” So, even though, it’s not his birthday, or his death anniversary, well, I wanted to learn more about him and to share it as a first contribution on the blog !


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