4 of the Best: Bill Bernbach

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No history of modern advertising would be complete without recognizing the efforts of Bill Bernbach and his contribution to it. Whether it was tearing up the Rosser Reeves universal selling proposition rulebook, or championing the fluid, natural connection between copywriters and art directors: his impact can still be felt today.

Trying to curate a list of his best ads has frankly, been a nightmare.

With so many great campaigns to choose from, we had enough trouble nailing down a storyline for episode 3 of Craftsmen of Creativity (hence why it is chopped up into three parts). Let alone whittling down his entire careers’ work into a mere 4 advertisements. Which is why this particular Craftsman will have his work featured in two separate pieces. Here’s the first instalment of the 4 best ads ever created by Bill Bernbach, the founder of world-renowned agency DDB:


We’ve chosen this ad first for a number of reasons, but perhaps most importantly – beyond the irresistible juxtaposition of a cat wearing a hat, or this being the very first examples of a retailer branding its own customers instead of itself – the story behind it represents the inception of DDB itself.

Mr Ohrbach, the owner of the retail store of the same name, was unhappy with his advertising agency, Grey, and suggested to Bernbach he launch his own agency. Ohrbach said he would be his very first client. Even agreeing to pay for the work in advance.

VW (1959)

This ad needs little introduction, but George Lois summarised the cultural significance and power of this ad perfectly: “Bernbach was so good he managed to sell a Nazi car in an American town.”

Much of the credit has to be given to the art director, Helmut Krone, and to Julian Koening, his copywriting partner. But this ad is another fine example of DDB’s approach of imbuing products with lifelike qualities and personalities. Something that had yet to be done nearly as well as this by the advertising industry.

DDB’s VW ads would come to symbolise both anti-establishment and common sense and would stand the test of time. You’ll see these ads in your local art gallery from time to time.

Avis (1962)

This ad is the subject of episode 4 of Craftsmen of Creativity, where we follow a young, budding copywriter – Paula Green – as she goes on a hunt to discover the essence of an ad that would not only stand the test of time, but that would transform the fortunes of a struggling company. Avis had been stuck in second place in its rent-a-car category and had been losing money for many years. It’s President Robert Townsend had an enormous amount of respect for the agency Bernbach had built, and the work they were doing at the time. He believed it was revolutionary.

In fact, he was so bought in that he famously said, ‘whatever you make we’ll go with.’ That carte blanche was every creatives dream. Avis went on a “We Try Harder” tour across the United States, to impart the important message to every employee that the fate of the company rested in their hands.

Levy’s (1961-70)

What a tagline. Judy Potras, the lady who wrote it has been cited as saying in the New York Times in 1979:

“We had a local bread, real Jewish bread, that was sold widely in Brooklyn to Jewish people. What we wanted to do was enlarge its public acceptance. Since New York is so mixed ethnically, we decided to spread the good word that way.”

The ads were delivered throughout the New York subway system and became so popular they were eventually sold as individual posters.

Craftsmen of Creativity: Tales of a Creative Revolution pays tribute to the brave men and women whose form of creative activism led to profound change throughout the industry.

Through a series of animated shorts, you’ll see the stories from their careers unfold, and the adversity they overcame on the road to legendary status.

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