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Art of Persuasion as enunciated by Shakespeare in King Henry VI, Part lll. Bill Bernbach, one of the pioneers in the golden age of print and television publicity is credited with ushering in the “creative revolution” in advertising beginning in the late 1950′s through to the mid 1970′s And while that revolution has helped to create a culture of self-indulgence in the industry, it also has been responsible for generating greater respect for the work of writers and artists and advancing the idea that advertising is as much art as it is science.bernbach1

Bernbach ( 1911-1982 ) didn’t rely on research. He preferred to listen to his gut and speak to people’s emotions rather than to their brains. And it worked. His agency, Doyle Dane Bernbach, created some of the most successful mass market advertising in history, including the Avis “We try harder” campaign, the Volkswagen “Lemon” ad, and the LIFE Cereal television spots with Mikey. Brave and engaging advertising that created narratives of great depth against a backdrop of clever visual clues, iconography and symbols that lent a fragrance of the poetic and artistic in a world of mediocrity. ” Execution becomes content in a work of genius” ( Bernbach )

How do you define good advertising?

While most agencies strive for great advertising, just finding “really good” advertising these days is a challenge. Good to great advertising engages the target in a way that entertains, educates, rewards and provokes action. Good ads make the cash register ring, while not necessarily winning awards.( Ron Telpner, BrainStorm Group )

Some famous observations on advertising from Bill Bernbach:

1) Advertising is fundamentally persuasion and persuasion happens to be not a science, but an art. 2) An idea can turn to dust or magic, depending on the talent that rubs against it. 3) Just be sure your advertising is saying something with substance, something that will inform and serve the consumer, and be sure you’re saying it like it’s never been said before. 4) 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.5) The most powerful element in advertising is the truth.6) In this very real world, good doesn’t drive out evil. Evil doesn’t drive out good. But the energetic displaces the passive.7)Rules are what the artist breaks; the memorable never emerged from a formula.8) Logic and over-analysis can immobiloize and sterilize an idea. Its like love-the more you analyze it, the faster it disappears.

Most advertising is mediocre at best. And yet every advertisement was approved by someone at some company somewhere in the world. Why didn’t the people who approved these mediocre advertisements demand to see “something better?” The truth is, they thought the ads were good. They get entered in competitions like Cannes where industry insiders worship each other in an orgy of self-congradulation within a genral loss of objectivity by the participants. In al likeilihood, Cannes awards are based against a background of ”accepted standards” or conventional wisdom.

Bernbach gained great fame with his ”Think Small ” campaign for Volkswagen in 1959. The use of minimalism within a somewhat abstract context and narrative was a sensory shock to consumers used to swallowing the typical sales pitches which were somewhat artificial and based on voracious need to consume and accumulate. The ads often resembled pulp fiction; multiple color illustrations and hand lettering with cliched texts. Bernbach was the first advertiser to understand the importance of an artistic aesthetic as a complementary force in his work:bernbach-2

“ In those days,( 1939 ) copywriters tended to look down on art directors, but Bernbach didn’t know that. When he met legendary designer Paul Rand, the agency’s art director, the young copywriter was profoundly impressed. They would visit art galleries and museums during lunch breaks, and talk about art and copy working in harmony. Bernbach understood how such collaborations could liberate agency creative work.”

Bernbach VW work underlined and crystalized economist E.F. Schumacher’s ”Small is Beautiful” line of thought; essays on the complexity of simplicity and the notion of the ”small” being an idea of empowerment reduced to a comprehensible human scale for the individual. Bernbach captured this central theme  and courageously challenged acquisitive tendencies within a symbol of status and affluence, the automobile.bernbach66

 The Press Grand Prix winner at Cannes this year was a Wrangler advertisement; an illustration of a woman lying in a pool of water pretending to be a crocodile and the headline:

mp;sz=14&hl=en&start=3&sig2=FcEIWi7BDA86sODP6tYmpg&um=1&tbnid=I9Wjdg-HXBLSNM:&tbnh=77&tbnw=128&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dwrangler%2Badvertisement%2Bwe%2Bare%2Banimals%26hl%3Den%26client%3Dsafari%26rls%3Den%26sa%3DN%26um%3D1&ei=B8nGSqD7EomllAfojZmSAw">“We are animals.” What would Bill Bernbach have thought?

After Bill Bernbach’s death in October 1982, Harper’s told its readers he ” probably had a greater impact on American culture than any of the distinguished writers and artists who have appeared in the pages of Harper’s during the past 133 years.” 

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