Tag Archives: bill bernbach

Bill Bernbach? Who’s he?

OK, my blog has now degenerated into a request show. Dutch creative @nicoakkerman recently prodded me to blog about this story. which is illustrative of something. he had a good point. it’s that geekiness and nerdiness can be a trap.

This was the setting for this story. I and my partner Justin Reardon were in Cannes talking to the media press. The Budweiser Wassup! campaign was hotly tipped to win the TV and Film grand prix at Cannes. The world advertising championships. And coincidentally our campaign had gone global thanks to the Internet. So our silly catchphrase was even being shouted by Cannes natives. Great timing!

our employer DDB had put on a big press conference on the beach in Cannes. and we talked all bloody day. we were extremely hungover. but we soldiered on. being the focus of attention is energizing. DDB stands for Doyle Dane Bernbach. Bill bernbach was the creative engine that started the agency back in the 1950s. a real big deal.

seated at our table was the CCO of ddb chicago bob scarpelli, the chairman of ddb worldwide Keith Reinhardt, and us basically.

Keith was a chicago ad guy who was instrumental in creating omnicom. Bob was the head of ddb chicago.

My partner Justin was then a young guy in his mid-late 20s who didn’t give a shit about advertising. He wanted to be a director. And now is one. If not two.

Keith was real evangelical about Bill Bernbach and his legacy to both DDB and the ad industry. A smart move. Every new DDB employee got little hard cover book called “Bill Bernbach Said”. It was filled with pithy and frankly brilliant quotes by Chairman Bill. This guy really got the big picture. As an ad geek i lapped it all up. Justin probably tossed his copy of the book right in the trash on day one.

So, cut back to us all on the beach. Worldwide Creative Chairman Keith Reinhardt invokes Bill Bernbach’s name to us. We all nod. Except Justin doesn’t. He says “Bill who?”. Keith Reinhardt nearly has a seizure. A DDB employee who doesn’t even know who Bill Bernbach is!!!!!!! I alone was in a unique position to see how badly this was going to go. So i stepped right in assuring keith, who knew my passion for ad history, and reminded him of my Catholic adoration of Bill and encyclopedic knowledge of all things DDB.

It was too late. Keith was pissed off. He was too political to display his anger in front of journalists. So while we stayed chatting with the editor of Portuguese Ad Week, out of the corner of my eye i could see keith prodding his index finger at Bob’s chest. And i knew why. Justin with his “who is bill bernbach?” comment.

but what keith found reprehensible about justin is what made me like him. one ad geek per team is plenty. his “ignorance” was more than compensated by my ad nerdiness. my problem was i knew too much. justin’s problem was he didn’t know or care. perfect!

My brushes with history – volume one

I have had more than my fair share of brushes with history.

Random example: I was standing outside the Old Bailey courthouse in London when the Guilford Four finally got of prison after serving 18 years for a crime (IRA bombings) that they didn’t commit. The story of the Guilford Four was later made into a movie called “In The Name Of The Father” starring Daniel Day Lewis. I had the good luck to join the campaign trying to secure their release just six months before finally got out of jail.

Other random example: I was in the hotel room in New York with Mayor David Dinkins when he found out he lost the election to Rudolph Giuliani in 1994. Don King was in the room. Al Sharpton was there. I was there.

Being in the presence of history and historical figures is exciting. So it was very exciting then that I found myself at a B’nai Brith dinner honoring legendary DDB copywriter Bob Levenson in the early 90s. Bob Levenson was Bill Bernbach’s legendary creative second-in-command. His art director partner was some German dude named, uh, oh yeah, Helmut Krone.

My boss was one of the original Mad Men. He was one of the creative revolutionaries of the 1960s. These guys were his pals. I was seated at the head table. With all my heroes. It was my first job. I was in heaven.

As you can imagine, i was seriously amped. But nothing could have prepared me for what happened later that night. The legendary David Abbott – founder of London agency Abbott Mead Vickers (who were an investor in the NY agency i worked for) delivered the keynote speech honoring Bob Levenson.

His speech consisted his recounting the first time he met Bob Levenson in the 1960s.

I know this sounds like bullshit but it’s true. In 1966, the young David Abbott had been summoned from DDB London to DDB New York to learn the “DDB way” by Bill Bernbach. So David showed up at DDB New York and was told to report to Bob Levenson. Which he dutifully did. And when he found Bob’s office, Bob was in the process of hanging a framed copy of his famous “We’ve been in the travel business a long time” ad for EL AL on his office wall.  Bob had his back to David as he regarded his own work and was completely unaware he was standing patiently behind him in the doorway.

The genius part? David Abbott seized the moment and covered his eyes and started reciting every single word of the ad Bob L. was holding in his hands. He had memorized the entire ad. I suspected he must have had a photographic memory. Or, he just cared about advertising a lot. Either way…”Great first impression Mr. Abbott! My name’s Bob Levenson!” was the only acceptable reaction.

So cut to 25 years later in the ballroom of the Manhattan Sheraton hotel. David Abbott recounted that first meeting with Bob at the B’nai Brith dinner and proceeded to, once again, cover his eyes and recite every single word in the ad – down to the legal mouse type. A huge copy of the El Al ad was projected on a screen behind him so the audience could follow along. It was perfect. The perfect thing to do. There wasn’t a dry martini in the house. Bob Levenson beamed appropriately.

My head nearly exploded. But I did have the presence of mind to get everyone present to sign my menu. Still have it. Natch.

I also have a signed (by Bob Levenson) copy of “Bill Bernbach’s Book”. But my signed copy of that book has a little handwritten note that indicates that mine was personally given to me by former DDB chairman Keith Reinhardt. Yours doesn’t.

History is everything!

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