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.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009



“If you cannot do great things, do small things in a great way,” said Napoleon Hill. This got me thinking about the significance of “small.” It’s the “small things” that have been changing and influencing our lives. Back in the 1960’s everyone was making big long cars. Doyle Dane Bernbach was hired by this company to create a campaign to promote an ugly looking car. It took a small headline to shake up the whole automobile market and changed all the existing rules of advertising forever. The headline read “Think Small”. Bernbach’s “Think Small” advertisement for the Beetle car was actually an exercise in thinking big. This ad catapulted the Beetle into fame and sales of the car (which no one gave much chance to succeed) actually broke all records and expectations. Not surprising then that in the list of the top 100 advertising campaigns, Volkswagen stands tall at the very top with its “Think Small” campaign that Bernbach created in 1959.

In fact, it was the “big” that drove Detroit into a ditch. GM, Ford and Chrysler had been America’s symbol of economic might and prosperity. They totally ignored the small and concentrated on big cars only. But it was the small and fuel efficient cars of Japan that helped them capture the US car market. In August 2008, the American car industry saw a drop in sales by 11%. Japanese carmaker Honda, on the other hand, out performed the sliding US auto industry with its US sales up by 1.2%. In 2007, Americans bought 55 light trucks for every 45 passenger cars. In July 2008, the ratio inverted and so did the fortunes of car companies. It’s the ones who focused on “small” that survived.

Toyota was another company that grew in an unprecedented manner and dominated the global car-market. Its hybrid car model, Prius became a best seller. But today, all is not well at Toyota City in Japan. The company has been hit badly by the slowdown. All eyes are focused on Akio Toyoda, the grandson of Toyota’s founder Sakichi Toyoda. In his first press conference ever, he said that the company had over extended itself in an effort to make big cars for the American market, forgetting completely that it was “small” which was responsible for its success. It’s time the company went back-to-basics and revamped its strategy, he said. Toyota City wanted to become like the Detroit of America – with car sales plummeting and unemployment increasing, the city is scarily coming close to fulfilling its dream.

It’s time to turn to “small” to survive. For that’s the way Ford has been able to survive. It’s the only US automaker that has not filed for bankruptcy because among other things, the first thing it did was sell off its big nonprofit table cars Jaguar and Land Rover to Ratan Tata. Alan R. Mulally, Ford’s CEO knew that the future was “small” and with this sale, Ford secured its future. In July, its sales rose 2.3% from last year, thanks to the increase in demand for small, fuel-efficient cars! The news made Ford the first among the major American carmakers to report a sales increase in the US this year. Small creates big impact – remember the atom bomb and how it altered Japanese and world history forever.


“Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies,” believed Mother Teresa. It is this faith that led this company to raise millions of dollars annually for children around the world. Since 1991, this small idea has helped this company raise over $70 million. Yes, it’s the UNICEF’s “Change for Good” campaign that was started with a simple premise that people who travel and have left over foreign coins or notes would probably never use them again. This way UNICEF found a way to turn this normally wasted money into millions of dollars for helping the underprivileged children. All that travelers were required to do was to give their spare coins in an envelope to an in-flight personnel on their way back home. Flights distributed promotional materials showing celebrities supporting UNICEF in this initiative. Till today, this small idea of small change continues to work, making it one of the world’s best known CRM campaigns.

More than charisma, it was a steady flow of funds that was responsible for Barack Obama’s victory. He used the Internet to raise money like no one could ever imagine. He turned his campaign website into a 24 hour deposit box that filled up slowly but steadily as “small” donation trickled in. He raised half a billion dollars online with 90% of the transactions coming from people who donated $100 or less, while 40% came from donors who gave $25 or less. No other campaign in the world has managed to create an impact as big as this one.

It was Muhammad Yunus’ “microfinance” and small loans to poor farmers that helped fuel his big dream of changing the fate of the poor and perhaps someday make poverty history. In 1975, he realised that by giving a mere $27 he could change the lives of 42 people of a village. He started the Grameen Bank that gave small loans to the “poor-uncredit-worthy” and changed the fortunes of one village after the next. He and his bank today have loaned more than $100 million and changed the lives of thousands forever. As the artist Van Gogh said “great things are done by a series of small things brought together.”


This man started a trend of sorts at Harvard. Everybody now wanted to find an idea and drop out of Harvard. Marck Zuckerberg founded Facebook while he was studying at Harvard in 2004. He never knew that a small university project could cause such an explosion and ‘blow away’ every youngster’s mind on this planet.

Many big businesses started as “small” projects. Bill Gates did it in the 1970’s; Sergy Brin and Larry Page started Google as a project in Stanford; Yahoo and Cisco System too were Stanford projects. Seeing the potential of “small” beginnings, in 2007 Harvard discarded its ancient rule of prohibiting students from running companies from their dorm rooms. If you know where you are going it is of no significance how small your start is. As Fidel Castro said, “I began a revolution with 82 men. If I had to do it again, I’d do it with 10 or 15 and absolute faith. It does not matter how small you are if you have faith and a plan of action.”

It started with a $5,000 loan, that helped him lease a garage and a copy machine. Today Paul Orfalea has converted it into a business we all know as Kinkos – with more than a thousand business centres worldwide.

A piece of paper, pencil, some imagination and a small loan of $500 was how this company started. Walt Disney, inventor of Mickey Mouse, built a huge empire that today is one of best and oldest standing companies in the world. Don’t forget, it all started with a mouse.


Wal-Mart started in a small town in Arkansas in 1962. It was this novel idea of opening a department store in a small town, when everybody else was rushing to open shop in the big cities, which led to the tremendous growth of this retail giant. Big cities were crowded, expensive, had tougher competition and were running out of good real estate options.

In contrast, small towns had none of the above problems, besides also having consumers that were delighted to find someone who cared enough to open a departmental store in their otherwise boring town, and especially one that was comparable to stores in bigger cities.


It was Chik shampoo that first introduced India to sachets in the 1980s. Earlier shampoos were available in large bottles. A change in packaging increased the market size dramatically. It worked especially well in the rural market – a market that is growing faster than the urban one. Every multinational that wants to grow is repackaging its goods into smaller units. If Colgate has its toothpowder in a 10gm sachet, sugar is now even available in a Rs.2 pouch, jam in a 10gm sachet and just 2 slices of bread are now sold in a single pack. Marketing them in small sizes, increased their market.

The magic of small was understood best by Estee Lauder. She did not have a huge advertising budget usually required to sell cosmetics. So she decided to package her cosmetic items into small size packs and distribute them as gifts to potential consumers. Not only did she manage to capture a huge market share, but also started a totally new trend in marketing.

Try sleeping with a mosquito and you will never underestimate the power of small things and the big differences they make. Napoleon was the greatest French Emperor and he was short. Kylie Minouge is not too tall either, but has done the biggest music counters. And it is not the big, but the small screen that worked wonder for Ekta Kapoor and her saas- bahu serials.

Frustrated by the high cost of film production, some Nigerian filmmakers turned to making home videos taking advantage of the affordable digital filming and editing technologies. Suddenly, movie making became affordable. Today, all films are produced using digital video technology. Colloquially known as Nollywood, Nigeria’s film industry is the second largest film industry in the world in terms of number of films produced per year. They churn out 200 videos for the home video market every month!

Small things do great things. A small leak can sink a ship, a small invention like the TV remote can change life forever. When phones shrank to mobiles and skirts shrank to minis, many swore that the world became a better place to live in. So if you want to go far and make it big, master the small first.

Forty years ago, on 20th July, humankind landed on the moon. It was Neil Armstrong’s one small step that changed the world. A journey, however long, starts with a single small step. Don’t undermine the power of small. And to really succeed, become the god of small things.

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