Snack Podcast Bill Bernbach
4 minutes read

There are lots of marketers and advertisers who think that advertising is a science. 

They are numbers driven, they are trying to make and apply rules and sometimes their research can trap them into the past. And I’m not the one first say that.

The legend we are going to talk about today is no other than William Bernbach.



There are lots of marketers and advertisers who think that advertising is a science. They are numbers driven, they are trying to make and apply rules and sometimes their research can trap them into the past. And I’m not the one first say that. The legend we are going to talk about today, is no other than William Bernbach, and he was the first one to say, I quote,

“I warn you against believing that advertising is a science…Logic and over-analysis can immobilize and sterilize an idea. It’s like love — the more you analyze it, the faster it disappears.“.

And boy he was right! Bernbach didn’t believe nor trust numbers. He believed that persuading people isn’t a science but a form of art. Word of mouth is the best medium and you can’t really quantify it.

Before we go any further, let’s take a closer look at his career and personal life and then, we’ll focus more on the legacy he left behind.

Bill Bernbach was born in The Bronx, New York City to Rebecca and Jacob Bernbach. He attended New York City public schools and in 1932 earned a bachelor degree from New York University. He had majored in English but also studied business administration, philosophy, and music, playing the piano.

His passion for art developed since he was a little kid. He was the son of a clothing designer and Bill was captivated by poetry. You can say that he mastered copywriting since his early ages.

After graduating the New York University with a B.A. in literature in 1933, he realized that finding a job is no easy job. He knew that he wanted to work in the advertising industry so he was determined to become someone in this industry.

Bernbach is the perfect example of an ambitious, dedicated and enthusiastic advertiser. He started modestly at the bottom of the corporate ladder when he found work in the mailroom of Schenley Distillers Company.

His career took off when he first submitted an ad to Schenley’s in-house advertising department. After a long period of time, the ad appeared in the New York Times. Soon enough, Bernbach got a raise and he was placed in the advertising department. Before joining the army during the World War 2, he worked as a copywriter for the New York World’s Fair in the promotion department.

At the end of the war, he returned to New York and worked as the director of postwar planning for Coty, Inc until 1944. He left Coty to become vice president of advertising for Grey Advertising, Inc.

1949 was the year when Bernbach decided he wanted to achieve far greater things, and the advertising agency Doyle Dane Bernbach(DDB) started its activity with their first account, a bargain department store. When he started the firm, its billings were $1,000,000; when he died it approximated $1,000,000,000. He was a leader in the affairs of the American Association of Advertising Agencies.

DDB is responsible for some of the most memorable ads. Volkswagen’s “Think small” campaign, and the “We try harder” campaign for the care rental company, Avis, are just two truly memorable and successful campaigns.

You can see a certain pattern in his ads. He approached the things much simpler. He wasn’t trying to sell as much as he was trying to tell a story.

The “Think small” campaign, has been considered so successful that it did much more than boost sales and build a lifetime of brand loyalty.

The ad, and the work of the ad agency behind it changed the very nature of advertising—from the way it’s created to what you see as a consumer today. In order to understand how difficult was for the agency to promote this car in that specific time period, we need to understand the background.

Americans love muscle cars. They like to have a powerful engine under the bonnet and cars were build for growing families with Baby Boomer children.

And there was the beetle. This alien, small car, created by the nazis in Germany, with a small engine and overall not appealing to the 1950’ U.S. citizen.

DDB work changed tremendously the social acceptance of the car and it tuned it in a fashion statement. This is how Printmag described the ad. “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.”

The “We try harder” campaign, changed the rules of advertising.

The ad’s subject line read “Avis is only No.2 in rent a cars. So why go with us?”
This was probably the first time, a company was proud of not being the No. 1 company in its field, and used that to their advantage. This is a small fragment from that ad.

“We try harder…We just can’t afford dirty ash-trays. Or half-empty gas tanks… Or low tires. Why? Because we can’t afford to take you for granted. Go with us next time. The line at our counter is shorter.”

Looking at these ads from the 1950’s and the 1960’s, and comparing them to our current ads, you can see one big difference. The amount of text they use. Over the decades, more and more ads started to pop on every single medium you can think of, and people’s attention span went up while the banner blindness went up.

If you are a marketer, you can’t change that by creating one less sucky ad. Follow Bernbach’s advice and try to be different without being loud or ostentatious.

And that’s all for today.

I’m glad we’ve got the time to hang out and I hope you enjoyed this episode.

Show us some love  by hitting that subscribe button or share us on your favorite social media.

Also, I want to thank Creatopy for making this podcast happen!

Till next time,

Keep being awesome!

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