Once in a while, someone challenges the status quo. They arrive with new ideas, energy, and a fresh take on the stale hum-drum we’ve all grown used to. Everyone flocks to people like this.
Bill Bernbach was one of those people.
He arrived on the advertising scene and virtually redesigned it. He tried new ideas. He took risks. He started his own agency. He poured into other legendary creatives. And the advertising industry was never the same.
His revolutionary ideas seemed to have one underlying principle that governed them all, a principle that’s best explained in his own words.
“Rules are what the artist breaks; the memorable never emerged from a formula.”
He believed deeply that good advertising was not a strict science but an art. When hiring, he didn’t want “scientists” who could quote all the rules of advertising. He wanted creative artists who could invent original, inspiring ideas.
A brief look at some of his campaigns show that he practiced what he preached. His unique work for the retail shop Ohrbach’s transformed the way people viewed the shop. Instead of seeing it as a cheap store, they saw it as their way to dress fashionably while still living within their means. How did he do this? With a gossiping cat and some brilliant copy.
Bernbach’s creativity was endless. Volkswagen came to him and asked if he could cast them in a more positive light as he did for Ohrbach’s. He accepted the challenge and proceeded to break all the rules for advertising cars by calling theirs a lemon. Risky? Perhaps. Genius? For sure. The way he positions Volkwagens as the reliable, go-to car is truly brilliant.
Bringing the underdogs into the limelight seemed to be Bill’s specialty. He wasn’t afraid to create something big for his underdog clients either. If he was going to advertise for them, he was going to give their competitors a run for their money. The rental car company Avis was being crushed by a much larger rental company and honestly just needed a break. When they hired Bill, he chose not to make them appear to be neck and neck with their competitor. Instead, he used where they were to their advantage and unabashedly declared that Avis was in second place.
And he convinced consumers that Avis’s second-place ranking was the very reason people should rent a car from them.
I don’t know about you, but I believe that even today, Bill Bernbach’s risky yet realistic advertising is a breath of fresh air. What would happen if more ads could make consumers lean in closer, read the copy all the way to the end. . . and smile?
I’d like to find out.
[All photos credited to DDB]
Free Ebook about Other Legends
For those of you who are as fascinated by advertising icons as I am, I’ve got a special gift for you. It’s a short PDF ebook about 3 famous advertisers in history, including Bill Bernbach. You’ll have all these interesting people’s stories together in one place to read whenever and wherever you want.
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