Happy Birthday Bill Bernbach
VW, Lemon, 1962
It would have been Bill Bernbach’s 100th birthday on August 13. To mark the date, DDB has put together a showcase of work by the legendary adman.
Bernbach is regularly hailed as one of the original ‘mad men’: an expression that was barely remembered by the wider populace before the hit television show but is now the go-to phrase for describing any significant ad figure of 1950s or 60s. Bernbach’s talent towered over most of that time, and he is widely acknowledged for leading the creative revolution in advertising. He is also credited for introducing the idea of the creative team structure, still dominant in most agencies today, where copywriters and art directors work together in two-person teams.
Bernbach began his career as an advertising copywriter after serving in the US Army during World War II. He rose to vice president in charge of art and copy at Grey Advertising, before in 1949 he, Ned Doyle and Maxwell Dane formed Doyle Dane Bernbach (now known as DDB Worldwide). The agency they founded opened with under a half-million dollars in billings. By 2002, it had $19.1 billion in billings and 206 offices across 96 countries.
Another contribution to the industry by Bernbach was his gift for a great soundbite. Among the many quotes on agency life that are attributed to him are: “A principle isn’t a principle until it costs you something”; “Good advertising builds sales. Great advertising builds factories”; “Nobody counts the number of ads you run; they just remember the impression you make”.
Below is a selection of classic ads produced by DDB during Bernbach’s tenure at the agency. Which one is your favourite?
VW, Think Small, 1959
VW, Ugly, 1969
VW, Funeral, 1969
VW, Snow Plow, 1964
Avis, We Try Harder, 1964
Avis, Number 2, 1962
Burlington, Sock Dance, c. 1970
American Tourister, Gorilla, 1970
Jamaica Tourism, 1964
Levy's, Indian, 1967
Alka Seltzer, Mama Mia, 1969
Polaroid, Central Park Zoo, c. 1960
VW, Or Buy A VW, c. 1960
VW, 1949 Auto Show, c. 1970
Mobil, Ten Story Building, c. 1960
Two new books on Bernbach have been published this month. Think Small: The Story of the World’s Greatest ad by Dominik Inseng (Full Stop Press), dissects the famed VW print ad, while The Real Mad Men by Andrew Cracknell is a broader look at 1950s and 60s US advertising.
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A brilliant post. I've seen a lot of those VW ads over the years but never took time to read them, and some of them are fantastic! But comparing to todays ads, would these still have the same affect, would people read all that content ?
The VW ads read like they were written yesterday. Warm, engaging and intelligent. Love them
Looking to some of the actual advertising pieces seems like have went backwards 1949.
All this VW artworks are just great.
In the 'Lemon' ad for Volkswagen I noticed the word 'Funktionsprufstand' as a headline in waiting: do the words 'Vorsprung durch Technik' spring to mind? Clearly a man ahead of his time!
Think Small is one of the greatest adverts ever made, so glad this tribute's been brought together.
Absolutely brilliant. He had an outstanding cast of creatives in his agency. He knew how to extract the best work out of them and convince the clients to go for it. Brilliant. And, this was during Mad Men era.
Did you know that some of DDB's early VW ads didn't even have a logo? How many clients would be brave enough to allow that today?
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