Daily Archives: August 15, 2011

Happy birthday Bill Bernbach

DDB co-founder Bill Bernbach would have been 100 recently had he not succumbed to lung cancer thirty odd years ago.

As a former employee of DDB i was issued with the BILL BERNBACH SAID book of aphorisms and wisdom he’d uttered over the years. It’s a brilliant book. All you really need to know about advertising in one publication.

Having worked directly for a still-living legend of the 1960s New York ad scene i have learned to take the legend bit with a bit of a grain of salt. These guys were human too, trust me.

But i have to say that in Bill’s case all the acclaim was justified.

He really was a visionary.

And his vision was basically that artistry could elevate advertising to something that was human. Something that you would actually invite into your life.

He realized that advertising could be something that actually added value to the life of the attendee.

This was heresy in the age of the post-war Madison Avenue hucksters who thought in terms of USPs and militaristic shelling of product messages into consumers’ consciousness.

I never met Bill Bernbach, but i did meet two of his most talented and trusted lieutenants: Helmut Krone and Bob Levenson. They seemed like nice guys. It was at a gathering of NY ad men honoring Bob Levenson in the early ’90s.

I made sure they both signed my program, ad geek that i am.

Happy birthday Bill Bernbach. We miss you!

Advertising strategy. What is it? And what is it good for?

In my nearly 20 years of working in advertising, i have yet to encounter an advertising problem that couldn’t be cracked in a few days.

Yet to listen to a lot of ad agencies you’d think what we do involves intellectual gymnastics. And it is somehow really very complicated and difficult.

It isn’t. It’s very simple. We tell stories.

But go to any big agency website and you’ll probably see some crap about “proprietary processes” and “tools”. Like they and they alone are the keepers of some sacred knowledge or voodoo.

Horseshit, of course.

Show me any great advertising and i’ll show you a triumph of common sense. What we do is, or should be, rooted in reality and common sense.

When i worked on Budweiser, which at the time produced some of the best advertising in the world, this was our “process”.

We would rack our brains for weeks on end. We would then go to the brewery in St. Louis and show the clients our ideas. They would pick some based on their gut reaction. We would then go and shoot these ideas. And they would air the best ones.

That was it.

No mystery. No planners. No research.

We just did it. And it worked out nicely for all concerned: client, agency and TV viewers.

Increasingly, I am coming to the conclusion that an awful lot of ad people (and some marketing people, let’s face it) don’t really know what it is they’re supposed to be doing. And all the jargon and smoke and mirrors are intended to mask this.

For me, the so-called “strategic” part of advertising is actually the most fun part and the easiest really. What is the problem? What are we trying to accomplish for the brand?

I call this the “what are we going to do?” stage. When everyone is filled with nervous anticipation and excitement.

The creation and execution of the ideas is arguably as important and much more difficult in my opinion than defining the strategy. Because you are literally trying to create magic.

Thankfully this remains a largely bullshit and jargon free zone. There’s nowhere to hide.

“What’s your idea?”

Because ultimately all the consumer reacts to is the execution of your idea.

And everything else is, frankly, bullshit that doesn’t really matter.