Happy Birthday Bill Bernbach

It would have been Bill Bernbach’s 100th birthday on August 13. To mark the date, DDB, the agency he founded, has put together a showcase of work by the legendary adman.

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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.

Bill Bernbach

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.

CR in Print

Don’t miss out – there’s nothing like CR in print. Our August Summer Reading issue contains our pick of some of our favourite writing on advertising, illustration and graphic design as well as a profile of Marion Deuchars plus pieces on the Vorticists, Total Design, LA Noire and much more.

If you would like to buy this issue and are based in the UK, you can search for your nearest stockist here. Based outside the UK? Simply call +44(0)207 292 3703 to find your nearest stockist. Better yet, subscribe to CR for a year hereand save yourself almost 30% on the printed magazine and get Monograph.

  • john


  • 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?