Bernbach, William

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BERNBACH, WILLIAM (1911–1982), U.S. advertising executive. Born in the Bronx, n.y., he served in the U.S. Army in World War ii and then worked at Grey Advertising, one of a few Jewish-owned advertising agencies in New York. His modest upbringing during the Depression and public school education instilled a strong sense of gratitude for the achievements that lay before him during his remarkable career in advertising.

In 1949, seeking to develop an environment based on the primacy of creativity, he joined with Ned Doyle, another Grey vice president, and with Maxwell Dane, a small agency owner, to form Doyle Dane Bernbach (ddb). They specialized in subtle, intelligent copy and graphics. So successful were these efforts that in less than 20 years the agency had become the sixth largest in the U.S. Bernbach's influence on the contemporary advertising industry was profound. His creative leadership won him many awards.

One of his most famous slogans was "You don't have to be Jewish to love Levy's" (rye bread). That campaign elevated Levy's to the largest seller of rye bread in New York and helped Bernbach and his partners acquire the first of many national and international clients. Other well-known slogans were "Think Small" for a small-car manufacturer and "We Try Harder Because We're Only Number 2" for the Avis car-rental company. In 1954 ddb determined that the uniqueness of Dr. Edwin Land's Polaroid breakthrough could best be demonstrated on live television, so they hired some of the most popular celebrities (Steve Allen, Jack Paar, Johnny Carson, and later Mariette Hartley and James Garner) to demonstrate the benefits of the Polaroid instant camera. The relationship between Polaroid and ddb lasted almost 30 years, and the campaign became one of ddb's most widely recognized.

In its early years, ddb gained its reputation from its ad campaigns for Jewish clients. Orbach's department store, Levy's, and El Al airlines provided the ad agency the opportunity to develop noticeable work, which would eventually gain the attention of Volkswagen. Soon to follow was El Al Israel Airlines' introduction of its trans-Atlantic service from Europe to the U.S. While most airlines would never have shown an image of the ocean in its advertising, for fear of reminding readers of the possibility of a crash, Bernbach faced this fear head on. El Al was the only airline at the time that could offer non-stop service between the two continents. Turning that to El Al's advantage, ddb created the "torn ocean" ad with the headline "The Atlantic Ocean will be 20% smaller." The one-time ad was so powerful, that within one year, El Al's sales tripled.

Bernbach and his partners raised Jewish and other minority advertising agencies into the mainstream of the medium. In 1969 alone, more than 100 new Jewish and Italian agencies opened, ensuring Bernbach's legacy for decades to come. Largely due to Bernbach's business acumen, DDB's $775,000 off-Madison Avenue business in 1949 evolved into a multibillion-dollar international powerhouse by the mid-1980s, when it merged with Needham Harper Worldwide to create ddb Needham. Bernbach was one of the first inductees into the Copywriters Hall of Fame in 1961 and is in the Advertising Hall of Fame.


J.W. Young, A Technique for Producing Ideas (1965); D. Higgins, The Art of Writing Advertising (1986); B. Levenson, Bill Bernbach's Book (1987); N. Millman, Emperors of Adland (1988); K. Stabiner, Inventing Desire (1993); S. Fox, The Mirror Makers (1997).

[Isadore Barmash /

Ruth Beloff (2nd ed.)]