"DDB NEWS", JUNE issue 1974
INTERVIEWER: At what point did you realize that' the agency you and Ned and Mac started was going to be successful?
BERNBACH : Well I think we knew it before we opened, because we had a concept that we strongly believed would work.
INTERVIEWER: But you really had proof it would work, didn't you, because you were doing that kind of advertising for Ohrbach's at the agency you were in, yes?
BERNBACH : Yes, but remember that in Mr. Ohrbach I had a client who gave me complete freedom. We had no assurance that we could find any other clients who would do that.
And in fact, when we opened and it was written up, the trade press noted editorially that it was not a good time to start a new agen6y. And there were other agencies that opened around that time that did NOT survive.
INTERVIEWER: Was it a bad time in terms of the economy?
BERNBACH : Yes and in terms also of the established giant agencies.
INTERVIEWER: Do you think it's any more difficult now than it was then to start a-new agency?
BERNBACH : Yes I do, because at that time our work stood alone-no one else had created advertising with the impact that DDB's proved to have. That kind of advertising stemmed from our concept, which was this:
At that time there was not a great deal of competition for an advertising message. Television was just beginning, people had time to read. But it was clear to us that there would soon be tremendous competition for the attention of the consumer. And that unless the advertising message was put down in a fresh way that made people select it out of a bombardment of messages, that made people care and respond to it, it was not even going to be perceived.
It had to be new, it had to be fresh, because if it had been done before, it wouldn't be noticed. That was our philosophy when we started and it's still our philosophy. And because our philosophy (which is altogether a different thing from a formula) is always to look for a new and fresh way to do something, it is a guarantee that we will not follow a formula and grow stale.
Now of course it isn't possible every time up to get something that is fresh and new. But if that is your goal, and it is ours, you are far more likely to achieve it.
INTERVIEWER: If we could go back to the beginning, Phyllis Robinson and Bob Gage came with you out of the same agency, yes?
BERNBACH : I'd hired Bob at the other agency as a young art director and I saw his great graphic talent very quickly. I put him on the Ohrbach's account, on which I had previously used such famous art directors as Paul Rand and Neitzche. And Bob was happy about that, and he had told me that he'd go anywhere that I went. Phyllis was in the promotion department of that agency.
When I saw some of the booklets she wrote, I realized she was far better than most national copywriters. And she felt the way Bob felt, so they both came with us when we opened DDB.
INTERVIEWER: That was some talent-spotting. And there's been plenty since. Does it fill you with pride that your offspring are all over Madison Avenue?
BERNBACH : Yes, it does fill me with pride. I think perhaps that the effect has been a general raising of standards in the advertising business.
It also pleases me very much when creative stars who leave here come back. And I think perhaps the reason they come back is that there is a difference in understanding and climate at DDB that we are very careful to preserve.
BERNBACH: No I don't. I think the idea is too strong here, and the pool of talent too deep for there to be a difference. Even
now much of what I used to do is being handled by the Bob Levensons, the Marvin Honigs, the Mike Manganos, the John Nobles. And just consider what it means in an agency and to upcoming creative people to have the talents of and to be able to
learn from-people like Bob and Phyllis, David Reider, Helmut, Bill Taubin, Lester Feldman, Jack Dillon, Bert Steinhauser, and on and on.
INTERVIEWER: I assume you feel there is a constant supply of young talent out there to draw from in the future, and for the people you have named to teach.
BERNBACH: Yes, and I think we do them a service because while we encourage them always to seek fresh ways, we make sure they're on the right track insofar as what they say, so that their talent will not be diffused on approaches that are
entertaining but irrelevant. I think it was George Bernard Shaw who said, "You say something better if you have something to say."
And while we're on the subject of what you say, I'd like to add something about how you say it. I do not think that vulgarity automatically renders an ad ineffective, or that good taste insures that it will be effective. An ad can be vulgar but alive and forcefuland therefore work. Or an ad can be in good taste and be dull and stupid and ineffective.
However, if your ad is vital and alive and sells the product and is also in good taste, you will have accomplished something else.
You will have done a public relations job for the company by getting the public to like that company as well as to buy its
product. Why miss out on that kind of opportunity?
And when you have advertising that is tal ked about because it's liked, it is good also for the creative people who did it. They respond to recognition and to praise and to awards. And I'm all for recogn ition and for awards for the creative person.
INTERVIEWER: Are there things about success that you don't like?
BERNBACH: Occasionally we find that someone who has been here is not growing with his job, is no longer right for the job, and yet it is someone that we have known and like very much as a person. Still it can be wrong to keep the person on because perhaps he would do far better and go further in another company. It's a great responsibility having to make that kind of
Or another kind of decision. Where we might have a big client who, we come to realize, is not really right for us. There are too many conflicts, too many areas of disagreement, and perhaps it would be better to resign the account. Yet if we do, it will mean less income and therefore we will necessarily have to let some people go. That too is a very great responsibility.
So those are two of the things that I dislike.