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The man who put honest, imaginative fun into advertising

Bill Bernbach's Book: A History of the Advertising That Changed the History of Advertising, by Bob Levenson. New York: Villard Books. 219 pp. Illustrated. $50. This is a book of nostalgia. Not just the history of an agency's advertising, it is a journey back into the thoughts and actions of that immensely talented man who made creative advertising what it is today. Bill Bernbach's credo - ``We must not just believe in what we sell, we must sell what we believe in'' - gave rise to a new phase in advertising. Honest, imaginative, funny.

From the days of Ben Franklin (whom many regard as the father of American advertising) up to the Civil War, which saw a tremendous industrial expansion, 19th-century America steadily gained a larger reading audience. Magazines, the penny-press, and better education on all levels were the reasons.

About these ads

After World War I came the era of salesmanship. Advertisements were no longer afterthoughts of merchants but elements in campaigns based on marketing strategy. ``It pays to advertise'' was the slogan.

The depression brought a reevaluation. Slow sales forced business to turn to the technique of advertising research to determine what ads were effective. But research tools, the marketing emphasis, did not satisfy clients. They wanted something better.

The year 1949 saw the formation of two agencies spearheaded by two creative geniuses, David Ogilvy and William Bernbach.

David Ogilvy has told his own story - several times. This is ``Bill Bernbach's Book.''

The firm of Doyle Dane Bernbach rose to preeminence quite rapidly and came to be regarded as the ne plus ultra of creativity. Its style - a clean, uncluttered look, simple layouts, straight copy - shows its versatility in a series of campaigns ranging from the whimsical pets (print) who despaired of Ohrbach's to the ``Mamma Mia'' commercial for Alka-Seltzer. More than once starting with a limited budget, Bill Bernbach and his team opened both eyes and pocketbooks with such lines as:

``You Don't Have to be Jewish to Love Levy's.''

``Think Small.''

About these ads

``We Try Harder.''

``Nobody Doesn't Like Sara Lee.''

The ``beetle,'' Juan Valdez, and Polaroid are all part of the American language today. From the telling ads to the quirky commercials, we see the human condition out in full display. First, we laugh. Then we buy.

This book, chock-full of colorful ads and storyboards, plays out a span of American culture. Written by a close, longtime associate, it is a compilation of DDB's best - at times brilliant - ads. Each chapter gives the inside story of a campaign: how Levy's was saved from bankruptcy; how Volkswagen, a small, ugly, slow import, was transformed into a small, desirable swan; how frozen baked goods could be as good as fresh; how an underselling store could achieve snob appeal.

But what is to be made of a service that creates needs and sells politicians? These very issues raised by Arnold J. Toynbee and Theodore H. White are addressed here by letters to both men. Bernbach skirts the issues but does declare that people - not advertising - are the issue.

Bernbach broke the rules of advertising by appealing to the mind of the consumer. His ads had a distinctive, exciting quality often imitated, never equaled. They have probably been the single greatest influence on advertising style since World War II.

Joan Senior has worked in advertising and publicity.


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