Why Bernbach Matters

Deep Influence

Creative Revolutionary

100 years old and still teaching, still leading: Lessons from Bill Bernbach.

"The product, the product. Stay with the product. Simple and authentic....The difference between the forgettable and the enduring is artistry...I fear all the sins we commit in the name of Creativity."

This and more as remembered by those who worked with him and those who wish they had.

Aug. 8-21, 2011 Adweek - Bernbach at 100

This article was first published in Adweek, August 8-21, 2011

Deep Influence

How Bernbach Changed Everything

By Keith Reinhard, Chairman Emeritus DDB Worldwide

If my boyhood dream was to find a life in advertising, my earliest idol was Bill Bernbach, the legendary founder of DDB. I used to tear out the pages of Life magazine that contained the great Volkswagen ads. I'd tape them to my wall and admire their simplicity, their unique tone of voice, their irony and wit. But even though I like to think of myself as a dreamer of big dreams and thought of one day heading the agency that changed advertising forever would have, even for me, qualified as an impossible dream.

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Deep Influence

Everything I know about planning I learned from bernbach

By Juan Isaza, Strategic Planning VP DDB Mexico

Very often, advertising students and young practitioners ask me what you need to know in order to become a good strategic planner. It appears that in our universities, there is a very clear guide for those who want to be on the creative side or the account side. However, planning is still a dark area discovered only by those that come to work in an agency, maybe because they see how it works in the real world but rarely because there is a formal description for the position.

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Revolutionary Work



This ad for Ohrbach's, a retail outlet, first appeared in 1958 and may just be the single most important ad of all time.

Why? Not just because it was the first time a retailer branded its customers instead of itself - it was suddenly chic to be cheap. Not just because of the irresistible juxtaposition of arresting visual and catty headline, not even because it was one of the first and best examples of Bernbach's idea that every ad, like every person or product, should have a distinct personality, but because it was Bernbach's work for Ohrbach's that several years later attracted the U.S. importers of an ugly little car from Germany - Volkswagen.

N.M. Ohrbach knew Bill Bernbach when Ohrbach's was a client at Grey Advertising. Mr. Ohrbach, who was not happy with Grey, suggested that Bernbach launch his own agency with Ohrbach's as its first client. Ohrbach even agreed to pay for the work in advance, enabling Doyle, Dane and Bernbach to pay their initial bills. The campaign transformed Ohrbach's from an unfashionable store in an unfashionable part of town to a "high fashion at low prices" boutique that attracted the attention of such people as the Rockefellers and drew "high fashion" coverage from Life magazine.


Deep Influence

Working for Mr. Bernbach

By Bob Kuperman, Former President and Chief Executive Officer DDB New York

My first meeting (if you could call it that) with Bill Bernbach was in an elevator. He said: "Hello." I mumbled a weak "Hello, Mr Bernbach" in return.

I was 22 years old, fresh out of art school and had been at Doyle Dane Bernbach for one month. It was 1963, and by then most of the first shots of what became known as the "creative revolution" had been fired - mostly by Bernbach and his troops.

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Revolutionary Work



In 1960, giving a German car a lovable personality meant breaking all the rules - not just for car advertising, but for advertising in general. That task fell to the art director, Helmut Krone, and to Julian Koenig, his copywriter partner.

Playing to the simplicity of the product was a practice unfamiliar to DDB's contemporaries. But DDB's VW ads introduced us to a car that would come to symbolize anti-establishment and common sense.


Give the World a "Lemon"...
Showing a car on a plain background was unheard of. But to refer to your new car as a "lemon" was an in-your-face act of daring on the part of the agency, and an act of courage on the part of the client. As closer inspection of the ad's copy revealed, a scratched chrome plate on the glove compartment made an entire car unfit for shipping. The stunning visual and self-deprecating copy had an appeal absent from other ads. They were disarmingly simple. And effective.

"Snowplow" and "Funeral"
Television spots made ownership of the VW Beetle a statement in itself-one of practicality and common sense. Instead of feeling the need to show off your car, a VW showed that you didn't need to show off. "Snowplow" and "Funeral" humanized the qualities of VW ownership-dependability and affordability. Through persistent focus on the product and its simplicity, DDB created what have been hailed as some of the most memorable advertisements of all time.


Deep Influence

Working with a Legend

By Bob Levenson, Former Creative Director & Chairman DDB International

Bill Bernbach had the nerve and the wit to hire me in 1959. Some years later, I had the nerve and the wit to hire Bob Kuperman. Neither event made any headlines. Typically, people made headlines when they left Doyle Dane Bernbach, not when they got hired.

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Lasting Insights

Bill Bernbach on the Future of Advertising

Revolutionary Work



Avis had been stuck in second place in its category and had been losing money for 15 years when Avis President Bob Townsend asked Bill Bernbach to give the company's image a boost. What resulted was an unlikely campaign success story as DDB embraced Avis' second-place status.

"All of our research and theirs showed that the one thing really unique about Avis was that it was No. 2 in its field," DDB account exec Lester Blumenthal said in 1962. Imagine a company loudly proclaiming it's only number two in its industry.

The "We Try Harder" campaign, a trailblazer in comparative advertising, scored miserably in testing. Half the people didn't like it. "But half the people did," Bernbach said, "and that's the half we want. Let's go with it."

Almost overnight, Avis raced into the black. The ads transformed Avis into a popular underdog, with everyone rooting for them to succeed.

"We try harder" entered the vernacular and even turned up on lapel buttons. Forty years later, iterations and echoes of this campaign can still be found all over the world.


Deep Influence

Bill Bernbach's Top 3 Quotes

In order to mark the hundredth birthday of the famous advertising expert, a week ago DDB Latvia launched a search through its website in order to find the best quote of the century by Bill Bernbach. After a week of voting, a Top 3 was formed out of more than eighty of his well-known quotes:

  • #1 Nobody counts the number of ads you run; they just remember the impression you make.
  • #2 Adapt your techniques to an idea, not an idea to your techniques.

Third place is shared by two quotes that received an equal number of votes:

  • #3 A great ad campaign will make bad product fail faster. It will get more people knowing it's bad.
  • #3 Word of mouth is the best medium of all.

The influence and popularity of the famous advertising expert is undeniable. Within a week the voting on the DDB website has been generated by people from 32 countries around the world, including the US, the UK, Brazil, Mexico, Japan, France, Russia, Spain, Australia and many other countries. In total more than a thousand votes were cast for the quotes.

As promised, everyone who shared the chance of voting with their friends or followers were entered into a lottery. The grand prize was a book of Bill Bernbach's quotes.

Thank you to everyone who took part in the voting and marked the birthday of Bill Bernbach along with us!

Lasting Insights

Bill Bernbach on the Creative Environment

Revolutionary Work

Life Cereal


A timeless commercial classic for Life cereal, "Mikey" originally received dismal reviews from focus groups. Although this created strong reservations about airing the spot, DDB was confident that the public would buy the spot and the cereal. And, they did.

With disarming simplicity, the spot's main character, Mikey, helped moved thousands of boxes of Life cereal off the supermarket shelves, and the commercial's popularity keep it on the air for a decade. Its catch phrase, "Mikey likes it!" became a fixture in the popular vernacular of the time, and Mikey became a national icon. Even today, there are urban myths about Mikey's whereabouts and the commercial itself continues to hold nostalgic appeal.

Lasting Insights

Bill Bernbach and Helmut Krone on advertising