Why Bernbach Matters

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.


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.


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.


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.