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Bill Bernbach and the Creative Revolution

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Bernbach, along with James Doyle and Max Dane, founded DDB in 1949. He had left Grey Advertising in “an act of defiance,” taking one small client — Ohrbach’s Department Store — with him. 

The reason he left was simple. He had the notion that advertising was an art, whereas most thought of it as a science filled with rules and formulas. 

“Rules are what the artist breaks; the memorable never emerged from a formula.”

The art of advertising was the art of persuasion, and Bernbach used creativity and the truth to sell products. This differed from another great advertiser, David Ogilvy. Where Ogilvy would rely on research and formula, Bernbach would rely on insight and somewhat understated humor. 

“I warn you against believing that advertising is science.”

Two good examples are these ads for his first client, Ohrbach’s. If you can’t read the headline on the right, it says, “We regret to inform you your school stuff is ready at Ohrbach’s.”

Bill Bernbach Ohrbachs

Breaking rules.

Bernbach understood that good advertising had to get noticed; to do that, he wasn’t afraid to break the rules. Take the famous “Lemon” ad, for example. It’s hard to imagine even today that a car company would associate itself with that word, but Bernbach did it for Volkswagen, and it became one of the most successful ads ever.

Bill Bernbach Volkswagen Lemon Ad

Another example of rule-breaking was the AVIS campaign that readily admitted that they weren’t the number one car rental company. That title belonged to Hertz at the time. What DDB did was remarkable. They actually bragged about being number two and being second meant they had to do everything right. Clean ashtrays, better customer service, basically trying harder because they didn’t have the luxury of being number one and resting on their laurels.

Bill Bernbach Avis Ad

Breaking the rules wasn’t confined to ad creative. Bernback was the first to pair up copywriters and art directors so they could work as a team. Before, writers and designers were in separate departments. A writer would submit work, and then it would be trafficked to the designer, who would have had no idea what the writer had in mind for an image. Likewise, the writer had no idea what the designer would want. Teaming them up not only led to better creative but also changed the industry. It’s pretty much standard now.


DDB is now a worldwide agency with around 10,000 employees, and it still reflects Bernbach’s vision for what advertising should be. Their “Unexpected Works” mantra means “the best idea you never saw coming.” It may be a more evolved way of saying advertising is art, but I think Bernbach would celebrate those words if he were alive today.

“100 years from now, the Idea is still going to be more important than all the technology in the world.”

Eye candy.

Bill Bernbach Think Small Volkswagen Ad
Bill Bernbach Volkswagen Globetrotters Ad

If you’re looking for insightful, creative copy and don’t have the budget to pay DDB prices, you can always talk to us.

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Ed Sharp

Ed brings 15 years of traditional and digital media sales experience to the agency, giving us a perspective most agencies don’t have. When he’s not working or seeking new knowledge, Ed hangs out with his wife, two kids, two dogs, one cat, and a hamster. And yes, the cat and hamster are best friends.

Chaney Given

Chaney is a talented and accomplished designer and illustrator, who has expanded his skill set to include motion graphics and video editing. With nearly a decade of experience, his client work includes Waterstep, Baptist Health, the Archdiocese of Louisville Catholic Schools, First Harrison Bank, and many more