William Bernbach

Aug 12, 2010 3 Comments by

“The Bauhaus of Advertising”
William BernbachOne need only compare the televised political ads of the 1950s to those of the Johnson campaign in 1964 to realize just how innovative DDB was. The presidential campaign spots of the previous era (including Kennedy’s in 1960) are absolutely prehistoric while DDB’s ’64 ad work looks—even today—astonishingly modern. It was Bernbach, the creative partner in the triumvirate of DDB co-founders, who revolutionized advertising into a true art form. “It was like the Bauhaus of advertising,” stated Myers in his CONELRAD interview.
DDB was founded by Ned Doyle, Maxwell Dane, and Bernbach in 1949. Doyle and Bernbach had been vice presidents at Grey Advertising and Dane was a tennis partner and former associate of Doyle. The three founders each brought considerable and distinct skills to their new business endeavor which ended its first year with just $500,000 in billings (by 1959, the agency was billing $27.5 million annually). Dane handled administrative and financial matters, Doyle, a lawyer by training, handled the client rainmaking and Bernbach was the creative force who changed the face of modern advertising technique.

The Brooklyn-born Bernbach graduated with a major in English from New York University in 1933 and was, by many accounts, a soft-spoken intellectual who liked to infuse his copy with a subtle yet irreverent sense of humor. Before serving in World War II, Bernbach worked as a writer and researcher for the 1939-1940 World’s Fair and got a job at his first advertising agency, William H. Weintraub, Inc., soon after.

Bernbach had once explained his professional philosophy to an interviewer as follows: “Creativity can be talked about, like the weather or sin. We really sweat at it here. We believe that good taste can be good selling. The whole history of art and literature is the effort of a people to try and say or create something in a fresh, imaginative way.”

Bernbach, who sympathized with the public’s distaste for the “hard sell,” shunned marketing research and embraced instinct. “Artistry, by and large, is having deep insights into human nature and then expressing it in a very, very fresh way – an original way,” he was quoted by the New York Times in 1982. One of the ways he fostered this approach at DDB was to break with the traditional agency organizational model and institute what was dubbed a “horizontal hierarchy.” “In most agencies the copywriter and the art director never worked together, explained Myers for CONELRAD. “The copywriter would not work with the art director. At DDB, that was different. DDB innovated the partnership.” Bernbach also insulated his “Creative Teams” from the outside pressures of sales demands, freeing them to focus on their more purely inspirational tasks.

One of Bernbach’s other talents, which clearly helped broaden the success of DDB, was in education. He would teach many young copywriters his unique skills and share his invaluable experience as the years went by. 1964 proved to be a year rich in experience for an agency already well on its way to becoming legendary. DDB’s work for President Johnson transcended a mere contract for advertising services and made the leap into history.



About the author

Advertising techniques and recipes from Advertising cookbook.

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