Monday, June 29, 2009

Homage to the Legend... Mr.B

So how do you start a blog on advertising... You start with the legends... I'll stick to one for now...

William Bernbach

Of course there are others... David Ogilvy, Claude C. Hopkins, Drayton Bird, David Abbott, Andy Maslen to mention a few... But for now, I'll stick with Mr. B... As it would be a shame to call yourself an advertising whatever if you don't know the likes of 'William Bernbach'...


William (Bill) Bernbach (August 13, 1911, New York City - October 2, 1982, New York City) was a legendary figure in the history of American advertising. He was one of the three founders of Doyle Dane Bernbach (DDB) and directed ad campaigns such as "Think Small" for Volkswagen Beetle (recognized by Advertising Age as the top advertising campaign of the 20th century). Bernbach was noted for his devotion to creativity and offbeat themes, a legacy that has hailed him as a major force behind the Creative Revolution of the 1960s and 70s. He is also credited with being the first to combine copywriters and art directors into two-person teams—they had commonly been in separate departments—a model that still flourishes in advertising agencies today.

Other notable campaigns of Bernbach's are "We Try Harder" (Avis Car Rental), "Mikey" (Life Cereal), "You Don't Have to be Jewish to Love Levy's" (Levy's Rye Bread) and "It's so simple" (Polaroid).


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The below letter was written by Bill Bernbach to the owners of Grey Advertising where he worked, in May, 1947. His letter was met with no more than lip service by those who first read it. But Bill was a visionary, with a visionary's zeal. And he was a worrier. That combination was the driving force behind of the opening of his own agency two years later.

Dear ___________:

Our agency is getting big. That’s something to be happy about. But it’s something to worry about, too, and I don’t mind telling you I’m damned worried. I’m worried that we’re going to fall into the trap of bigness, that we’re going to worship techniques instead of substance, that we’re going to follow history instead of making it, that we’re going to be drowned by superficialities instead of buoyed up by solid fundamentals. I’m worried lest hardening of the creative arteries begin to set in.

There are a lot of great technicians in advertising. And unfortunately they talk the best game. They know all the rules. They can tell you that people in an ad will get you greater readership. They can tell you that a sentence should be this sort or that long. They can tell you that body copy should be broken up for easier reading. They can give you fact after fact after fact. They are the scientists of advertising. But there’s one little rub. Advertising is fundamentally persuasion and persuasion happens to be not a science, but an art.

It’s that creative spark that I’m so jealous of for our agency and that I am so desperately fearful of losing. I don’t want academicians. I don’t want scientists. I don’t want people who do the right things. I want people who do inspiring things.

In the past year I must have interviewed about 80 people – writers and artists. Many of them were from the so-called giants of the agency field. It was appalling to see how few of these people were genuinely creative. Sure, they had advertising know-how. Yes, they were up on advertising technique.

But look beneath the technique and what did you find? A sameness, a mental weariness, a mediocrity of ideas. But they could defend every ad on the basis that it obeyed the rules of advertising. It was like worshiping a ritual instead of the God.

All this is not to say that technique is unimportant. Superior technical skill will man a good man better. But the danger is a preoccupation with technical skill or the mistaking of technical skill for creative ability.

The danger lies in the temptation to buy routinized men who have a formula for advertising. The danger lies In the natural tendency to go after tried-and-true talent that will not make us stand out in competition but rather make us look like all the others.

If we are to advance we must emerge as a distinctive personality. We must develop our own philosophy and not have the advertising philosophy of others imposed on us.

Let us blaze new trails. Let us prove to the world that good taste, good art, and good writing can be good selling.

Bill Bernbach

Excerpted from “Bill Bernbach’s Book: A History of Advertising That Changed the History Advertising” © by Evelyn Bernbach and Bob Levenson. Courtsey: Branding Strategy Insider

The above letter was written by Bill Bernbach to the owners of Grey Advertising where he worked, in May, 1947.


"Good advertising builds sales. Great advertising builds factories."

"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."

"We don't ask research to do what it was never meant to do, and that is to get an idea. "

"Our job is to bring the dead facts to life."

"A great ad campaign will make a bad product fail faster. It will get more people to know it's bad."

"Rules are what the artist breaks; the memorable never emerged from a formula."

"All of us who professionally use the mass media are the shapers of society. We can vulgarize that society. We can brutalize it. Or we can help lift it onto a higher level."

"A principle isn't a principle until it costs you something."

"Properly practiced creativity can make one ad do the work of ten."

"Let us prove to the world that good taste, good art, and good writing can be good selling."

"Logic and over-analysis can immobilize and sterilize an idea. It's like love -- the more you analyze it, the faster it disappears."

And with that... Ad Spiel begins...