top of page

Three lessons from... Bill Bernbach

William "Bill" Bernbach (1911-1982) is one of the greats of advertising, known not only for his ads but in his revolutionary approach to structuring advertising agencies.

From mail room to copywriter

Even with a BA in Literature from NYU, within the middle of the Great Depression in 1933, finding employment was tough. However, Bernbach soon began working in the mailroom of the liquor company Schenley Distillers, sending adverts he’d created to their in-house advertising department. A few weeks later he saw one of his adverts published. He was given a raise and given a job as a copywriter.

Founding DDB

On June 1st 1949, he founded Doyle, Dane, & Bernbach, serving as the Head of Creative. He became the creative mind behind many iconic campaigns, such as Avis’ ‘We Try Harder´, and Volkswagen’s ‘Think small’.

You could fill entire books with Bernbach inspired wisdom. But here are just three key lessons:

1) -Words and images must work in tandem

  • Bernbach moved his copywriters and art directors into a single team, sharing offices, desks and ideas. Previously, art directors and copywriters worked on different floors, and sometimes even in different offices. Since, Bernbach’s model has become industry standard.

2) –“Great execution becomes great content”-

  • In Bernbach’s very own words…..

“Don´t underestimate how you say what you want to say. Shakespeare got his plots from the penny history books of his period. But how he expressed those plots brought them to everlasting life… Nothing succeeds like a great idea memorably executed.”

3) –“The essence of impact is saying things the way they were never said before”-

  • One of Bernbach´s favourite quotes from the great jazz pianist Thelonious Monk encapsulates this belief: “The only cats worth anything are the cats who take chances. Sometimes I play things I never heard myself.”

If you´re interested in knowing more about Bill Bernbach, here are some great resources:

In this speech to the American Association of Advertising Agencies in 1980, Bill Bernbach outlines his philosophy on creative genius:

Bill Bernbach on advertising 1/2:

Bill Bernbach on advertising 2/2:

The Legacy of Bill Bernbach:

bottom of page