Madison Avenue, USA
Bernbach is by no means oblivious to the importance of a strong sales argument, and if his client has one he will push it for all it is worth. 'Memorability and originality,' he said, 'should be based on something worth saying.' He has rung literally dozens of changes on the Polaroid camera selling theme, the fact that a Polaroid gives you finished pictures a few seconds after you push the button; and he has found a hundred ways to argue that at Obrbach's you can buy things more cheaply without sacrificing chic. But to Bernbach the setting is most important, and the setting is a visual image which stops the reader (or wins the attention of the television viewer), and stops him by telling him a story.
'We try to boil everything down into one idea,' says Bob Gage, head of the art department, 'and we want it to be the strongest idea the client can get over. We try to economize a lot in our thinking. We want realism in our ads, and not decoration. And we don't want anything at all in the ad that doesn't work—we want everything to be lean.' For Ohrbach's, for Chemstrand, and for Cole bathing suits, Bernbach and Gage have used photographs as cartoons—cartoons composed at the height of contemporary taste in design—setting real people in unreal situations to illustrate an idea. The agency believes strongly in the humorous approach ('Humorous copy,' says Ogilvy's Rule 13, 'does not sell'), on the grounds that humour puts potential customers in the right frame of mind. 'But it has to be a sophisticated form of humour,' Gage says, 'and it has to be right. If there's too much of it in an ad, people don't get it. People can get only so much at a time.' A particularly spectacular example of this approach was an ad for Max Factor lipstick—a montage of the Colosseum, a Roman senator's bust with alive and staring eyes, and the head of a glamorous girl, all to illustrate Bernbach's headline, 'Any Man Will Come to Life When You Wear Roman Pink.'
Bernbach does not believe in rules of advertising, whether they apply to content or to technique. The final Bernbach ad emerges from constant interchange between copywriter and art director, operating on an equal organizational level with the agency. 'A copywriter might have a good line,' Gage says, 'and I think how I can visualize it. I do a visual, and he looks at it, and that might give him still another idea for a line.' When both copywriter and art director are pleased with the ad, it goes up to the account executive, who cannot simply turn it down; he has to have a reason, and a good one. So does the client. 'When we initiate relations with a client,' says Joe Daly, Bernbach's account executive on Polaroid and Chemstrand, 'they accept us on that basis. We say, "We think we know how to make ads and you must agree or you wouldn't want us to do your ads." Factual error and a violation of corporate policy are the only reasons we'll accept for correction.' Bernbach himself puts the matter simply: 'I feel that if the agency makes an ad and the client doesn't like it, the client ought to run it anyway.' Ned Doyle, who runs the agency's account service department, believes that many clients at first accept this approach 'with tongue in cheek. I'm sure every agency tells clients, "We're experts in advertising, and you'll have to take our advice." But we really mean it.'
Bernbach deliberately rejects most of the tenets of modern agency operation. His account executives do not draw up 'marketing plans,' which are solemnly prepared at almost every other agency of any size. 'I always tell clients,' Bernbach says, not to be taken in by a plan. The best plan in the world isn't going to make an ad that sells merchandise. Besides, what does the client want—somebody who knows his business or somebody who knows the advertising business?'
Most shocking of all, Bernbach has little use for research—that is, he thinks it has a role, but not a major role, in advertising. 'Research can tell you what people want, and you can give it back to them,' he says. 'It's a nice, safe way to do business, but who the hell wants to be safe? Small companies these days can't afford to run just competent advertising—the big guys have competent advertising, too, and a hundred pages to your one. Anyway, advertising isn't a science, it's persuasion. And persuasion is an art.'