What Would Bernbach Say?

I’ve been in the advertising world all of a year and I’m fascinated by it. The lore, the history and the evolution is so rich and so relevant to modern-day practitioners. I read the David Ogilvy book, Confessions of an Advertising Man, and could’ve quoted something from almost every page as an actionable insight for someone working within social media today.

Jeff Swystun, Chief Communications Officer for DDB Worldwide (my employer), had the same idea but looked at great quotes from Leo Burnett, David Ogilvy and the “B” in DDB, Bill Bernbach.

From Jeff:

The innovator who ushered in The Creative Revolution, what Bill Bernbach did was to simplify the complex and clarify communications at every turn. He understood the essence of a product and individual desires and motivation. His brilliance is demonstrated by We Try Harder for Avis Car Rental, Mikey for Life Cereal, You Don’t Have to be Jewish to Love Levy’s for Levy’s Rye Bread, and It’s so simple for Polaroid. And of course, Volkswagen’s “Think Small” ad, recognized as the top advertisement of the 20th Century.

“Properly practiced creativity can make one ad do the work of ten.”


Never has this been more true than with social media which allows sharing with a click. Mr. Bernbach would be pleased to see great content moving among audiences who desire it and he would make earned media a goal of every campaign.

“It is insight into human nature that is the key to the communicator’s skill. For whereas the writer is concerned with what he puts into his writings, the communicator is concerned with what the reader gets out of it. He therefore becomes a student of how people read or listen.”

Social media is a form of communication with nuances and aspects unique to its practice. Bill Bernbach would tailor messaging by medium ensuring that the differences in how people read or listen to one form reflects the differences from another. He would be a student of who uses social media and how they use it to ensure the user gets full value out of it.

“In communications, familiarity breeds apathy.”


Bill Bernback hits on the greatest danger to social media. How many of us are reading the ads at the side of our Facebook profile? Consumers are increasingly sophisticated regarding communications and are being trained to aggregate and cull. This means a great deal of social media communications is never seen or acknowledged. The proper response to counter apathy is relevant creativity.

“A great ad campaign will make a bad product fail faster. It will get more people to know it’s bad.”


Mr. Bernbach would probably remind every client of this fact when they would ask for a social media communications campaign. Technology and immediacy does not shelter “o.k.” or mediocre products. Social media has put more power in the hands of the consumer and bad news travels very, very fast as a result.

“Properly practiced creativity MUST result in greater sales more economically achieved.”

The relevance here is unmistakable. Regardless of the fervor of the medium, if the communications is not rich with relevant creativity and if it is not effective and efficient in terms of driving sales and managing costs, it is not delivering value. Mr. Bernbach was keenly aware that creativity for creativity sake is art while advertising is meant to grow the top-line while being vigilant with the bottom-line.

I was inspired to push the Bernbachian quotes into a short deck which you can see below.

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