Friday, August 28, 2009



Early this month a very interesting book was released which caught my attention and really got me thinking. Named “Nobody’s Perfect: Bill Bernbach and the golden age of advertising” this book is written by Doris Willens, a former journalist who looked after the PR division of Bill Bernbach’s advertising agency DDB (Doyle Dale Bernbach) from 1966 to 1984. Twenty seven years after the death of Bernbach, here came a book which painted Bernbach as a blemished, insecure, person who leaned on others work. A man who I hold in very high esteem, a man who features at the number 1 position when it comes to drawing up a list of “Top 100 people of the century in the field of advertising” for he changed the course of advertising history- how could he be painted in such a bad light? Here was a man, who according to the author Doris Willens, was a devoted family man, unlike the many womanizing and boozing admen of those days (and even today!), was creative and disciplined. However, what interested her more were anecdotes of little or no relevance to the world of advertising- things like he recycled speeches, put one of his sons on the payroll unbeknownst to management and was frustrated over not being able to publish his own book. Ridiculous! The man has contributed so much to the business of advertising that these allegations seemed so petty. But they did have one positive influence on me- they made me go back to my old notes, my books to read and understand this genius and many more like him and rediscover the important lessons that their work has taught.


When advertising started there used to be someone who would write lines and then hand it over to someone else who put a picture or an illustration that matched those lines. Bernbach was the first to take a bold step and change this business of making ads. According to him “Advertising is the art of persuasion” and he cited an interesting study by “AAAA” which claimed that 85 percent of all advertisements were ignored by consumers. What was the use of businesses spending so much money when all it caused was boredom? One needed to persuade and persuade hard. This could be done only when every aspect of the advertisement spoke the same language. So he changed the process of making the advertisement. Everyone knew the rules of advertising but they lost it all by working independently. He made sure at every level of ad making the artist and the writer worked together. Now the artist could suggest a headline, the writer a visual and for the first time “art and copy” were integrated as one. Everyone was in sync with each other’s thoughts and the ads worked brilliantly. Now 1+1 equaled 3. DDB’s unique approach gave birth to many masterpieces in the 1950’s. A bargain department store in New York named Ohrbach’s had a small media budget but Bernbach and his agency created a masterpiece for them. His ad without once mentioning prices made an advertisement which gave a clear positioning to the store. The advertisement showed a man carrying a woman under his arm with a caption that read “Liberal Trade-In: bring in your wife and just a few dollars….. We will give you a new woman.” Another in the series showed a well tailored woman flanked by a man shattered into pieces with a caption that explained “clothes that make the woman without breaking the man”. It was a beautiful and relevant combination of “art” and “copy”. It is not surprising then that it’s in the list of the Top 10 advertising campaigns of the century and number 1 and number 10 have ads created by DDB. No one else could get 2 of their ads into the top 10. At number 1, you have the Volkswagen ad with the headline “Think small”, at number 10 is the very very famous advertisement of Avis which had the most iconic headline ‘We are no.2. We try harder”. It was these few words that altered the fortunes of both the companies forever. Bernbach not only made sure his agency did good work, but he ensured that no “good idea” got lost. A lot of people think up wonderful ideas but its rare to find an ad man who can recognize a great idea created by others. His creative philosophy was simple “…indulging in graphic acrobatics and verbal gymnastics is not being creative” you need to create something where every word, line, shadow, makes the ad more persuasive.


In life what matters most is the power of persuasion and its words, rather the right words that most often determine whether an ad will work well or not. Yes, years ago Confucius did say “A picture is worth a thousand words” but in the business of advertising, a picture without words does not work. After all have you ever seen an advertisement without text? But you would definitely have seen ads without pictures. In fact great genius like Claude Hopkins went to the extent of starting that “illustrations were a waste of space”. May be this was true 60-70 years ago when clutter was less, but what we should not forget is a picture alone- however wonderful can never sell a product. The advertising greats never forgot this. Raymond Rubicam made sure his agency Young and Rubicam made well written ads. He used to say “The way we sell is to get read first”. In order to do that he ensured that every fact about the product being advertised was well researched. He was the first to make research a part of the creative process. Like Rubicam, David Ogilvy too was a firm believer in research for he believed in the power of words to convince a consumer to buy a product. It was the “headline” which could make or break your advertisement. According to him “5 times as many people read the headline as compared to those who read the body copy. So unless your headline sells your product you have wasted 90 percent of your money”!

Be it print or television ads, long after you have seen them, it’s the “words” that linger on in your memory. Great punch lines sometimes even become a part of our daily lingo. “Hum Santro waale hai,”, or “utterly butterly” keep popping in conversations like many more such punch lines. “Daag achche hai” made kids lives more fun, with Daddies explaining mommies about the joys of childhood & the stains that accompanied it. Mommies smiled and answered don’t worry “Mummy ka magic chalega”


Yes, the one who can master the art of juggling words and getting the right mix is the master persuader and the best salesman. It is not important if your words are technically correct or the sentence grammatically perfect; but the words should work for the brand and make it memorable. What language you speak is also important Ford Icon became the “Josh”: machine in India, Coca Cola associated itself with “Thanda” which colloquially means a cold drink in India. Times of India’s award winning advertisement “A Day in the life of Chennai” used words like “Naaka Mukka” which worked fabulously for it meant “tongue nose” – a Tamil expression using people to let their hair down.

Well worded expressions are always winners. Energizer batteries used the strap line “Never let their toys die”. Pillsbury frosting stated “Spreads as good as it tastes”. Even before one used the product the words already helped you visualize the benefi ts of it. No wonder they could beat competition.

Some words which otherwise would be termed as gibberish seem to have worked well for a lot of situations “Hoodibaba” worked well for Bajaj Caliber. The product may have nor done well but “Wakaw” immediately brings to mind coke’s product: “Vanilla Coke”. Apart from Hrithik Roshan it was the “mast” punch line of Tata Sky “isko laga dala toh life Jhinga lala” which made the brand name popular. These words catch the attention which is the primary purpose of an advertisement. Budweiser used the same trick with its “Whassup!” award winning ad campaign. Sometimes gibberish really works – think “Dhan te nan” the foot tapping number from the more Kaminey. You must be able to think of a “Dhan te nan” headline or punch line for your advertisement to rock.

1 comment:

  1. There is a thick line between Pursuance and negative aggression.

    Many a times negative pursuance is used with success to push items trying to create a snob appeal for the product.

    The best advert is the one which entertains and educates the consumer about true product worth which will go a long way on positive WOM about the product.

    Plain advertising can not sell a bad product for long.

    Say what eh?


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