Chivas, Life and El Al: Bernbach’s Greatest Part 2

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Born to Jewish parents in the Bronx, NY – Bernbach graduated from college at the worst possible time.  The Great Depression saw stocks and morale at shocking lows.

Luckily, Bernbach was able to land a job at the Schenley Distiller’s mailroom. It was here his advertising career truly began. He would sit and doodle mock ads.  His clear talent shone through and was encouraged by Schenley staff to post an ad he had created for ‘American Cream Whiskey’ to the Lord and Thomas Agency. After running it without asking he sought to get credit, and that’s the premise for act one, episode 4 of Craftsmen of Creativity. Although in time he created far more than mock ads. He founded DDB and is largely deemed to be the most important influence on modern advertising today. Here’s part two of Bernbach’s greatest hits:

Chivas (1964)

DDB transformed Chivas Regal, a generic scotch, into an upscale whiskey through a tagline that came about mistakenly. The copywriter assigned to the Chivas account supposedly grumbled that the CEO of Schenley had changed Chivas Regal’s bottle from dark green to transparent in an effort to show off the whiskey’s pale colour. “That’s the headline!” Bernbach said to the copywriter. “What idiot changed the Chivas Regal bottle?”

The ad was followed up with hundreds of examples of creatively executed ads that turned Chivas into the ‘Chivas Regal of Whiskeys’.

El Al Airlines (1959)

Peter Brunswick was CEO of El Al and had come to DDB on the basis of the Ohrbach’s work. His story was simple. The airline was about to introduce an exclusive non-stop service between New York and London that would beat the standard DC-7 carriers by 2 1/2 hours. The little-known Israeli airline became a sensation across the Atlantic overnight. All it took was one ad. A Jewish mother talked about “My son, the pilot,” and was quickly followed up with ads like “We don’t take off until everything is kosher.”

Speaking of Bernbach, John Hegarty said “Bernbach proved that you could go out, tell the truth, you could be honest, and you could convince people. And it’s that, I believe, that will be the legacy he is going to leave the advertising industry. And it’s a legacy that’s an outstanding one to leave. Any agency that puts an art director and a copywriter in a room together and says create something that is going to stimulate someone’s imagination is going back to the inheritance they’ve taken from Bill Bernbach.”

Life Cereal (1972)


First airing in 1972, the ad starring three real-life brothers ran continuously on TV for over 10 years. Two brothers fight over a bowl of cereal and eventually decide to give it to ‘picky eater’ Mikey to see whether he likes it.  John Gilchrist, who played Mikey appeared in over 250 commercials. Interestingly, DDB at this point were fed up of being fleeced by big directors who required enormous studios and cheques to shoot campaigns. Instead, ‘Mikey’ was one of the first ads to be shot in the ‘Director’s Studio’ with a heavily reduced budget. It was shot by Bob Gage, a legend of DDB.

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