William Bernbach – Short Biography
The Doyle Dane Bernbach ad agency shot to national fame thanks to the creative and highly innovative campaigns introduced by William Bernbach.
Through him, the company overtook the advertising agency competition with successful national campaigns in the 1960s for Avis Rent-A-Car and Volkswagen.
Bernbach is also known for leading an ethnic revolution in the advertising workplace by hiring droves of ethnic Americans.
William Bernbach – The Life of an Advertising Pioneer
William Bernbach was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth. A modest upbringing during the years of the Depression coupled with a public school education were able to instill in Bernbach a profound gratefulness for the many achievements he had throughout his remarkable advertising career.
Bernbach came of age at the same time the prohibition was repealed. He received his BA degree in English from NYU. From there, Bernbach jumped at the opportunity to work at Schenley Industries. Starting out as a mail clerk, Bernbach spent most of his free time developing concepts for Schenley advertising. He also sent an idea to the distillery’s advertising agency Lord & Thomas. When Benrbach got no reply, he got the surprise of his life when he opened the paper and found his idea fully executed in one Schenley ad.
Bernbach eventually retrieved evidence of his concept and was transferred from the mailroom to the advertising and marketing department. It was here that he caught the attention of the Chairman of the Board, Grover Whalen. The next couple of years saw Bernbach serving as Whalen’s right-hand man.
Bernbach later approached Bill Weintraub and got a copywriting post at his agency, partnering with Paul Rand. The pair’s collaborative efforts resulted in an end-product that was more integrated and more powerful. After a brief time in the military, Bernbach worked for Grey Advertising sometime in the 1950s, moving rapidly from copywriter to copy chief to the creative director position in a mere four years.
Bernbach, wanting to develop a work environment that put a premium on creativity, along with Mac Dane and Ned Doyle, formed Doyle Dane Bernbach (DDB) in 1949. Orbach’s, one of Grey’s major clients, seeking Bernbach’s creativity, moved its business to Bernbach’s new home. Orbach’s became DDB’s first client and incidentally, its launchpad for future business success.
With only 13 employees and a Madison Avenue office, DDB was able to generate $775,000 in billings in its first year of operation. The Orbach’s account success brought other major clients to the DDB doorstep. This led to more national and international clients for DDB, from automobiles to photography firms to airlines, and more. DDM grew into a multibillion-dollar international advertising powerhouse by the 1980s, when it merged with another firm, Needham Harper Worldwide, creating DDB Needham.
All through his four-decade career, Bernbach was never far from his agency life. Bernbach died of leukemia in October 1982. One of his two sons, John, followed in his dad’s footsteps and took charge of managing the London operations of DDB.
The William Bernbach Quick Bio
Full Name: William Bernbach
Birthdate: August 13, 1911
Birthplace: Bronx borough, New York City
Company: Doyle Dane Bernbach
Key success traits: boundless creativity, determination, courage to take risks
The influence of Bernbach was felt even outside the advertising arena. Everybody from presidents to renowned artists to financial business leaders sought his advice and guidance.
Bernbach served on the boards of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, the Municipal Arts Society of New York, and the National Book Committee.
For Bernbach’s efforts in bridging the gap between science and art, he was given the Partner in Science Award by the Salk Institute.