Radio Hed: Advertising Wisdom from a Mad Man

Radio-Hed-Logo-2By Jeffrey Hedquist

I can’t say I’m an expert on Bill Bernbach. I liked his ads. I never worked for him. He wasn’t known for his radio, but he was known as an incredible advertising person and rightly so. Avis Rent a Car: “When you’re No. 2, you try harder,” Life Cereal: “Mikey,” Levy’s Rye Bread: “You Don’t Have to be Jewish to Love Levy’s,” VW: “Think Small.”

Bernbach was one of the founders of Doyle Dane Bernbach (now part of Omnicom Group), the first ad agency to introduce the creative form approach, which paired a copywriter with an art director.

He and his firm are mentioned often in “Mad Men” as a rival to Sterling Cooper, Don Draper’s agency.

What can we learn from the mighty Bill? Here are some of his quotes. As you read each, think how you might apply them to client projects you’re working on.

“The truth isn’t the truth until people believe you, and they can’t believe you if they don’t know what you’re saying, and they can’t know what you’re saying if they don’t listen to you, and they won’t listen to you if you’re not interesting, and you won’t be interesting unless you say things imaginatively, originally, freshly.”

“Nothing is so powerful as an insight into human nature... what compulsions drive a man, what instincts dominate his action... if you know these things about a man you can touch him at the core of his being.”

“Advertising is fundamentally persuasion and persuasion happens to be not a science, but an art.”

This quote is about print advertising, but it applies as much if not more to audio (emphases mine).

“The writer is concerned with what he puts into his writing… the communicator is concerned not just with what he puts into a piece of writing, but with what the reader gets out of it. He therefore becomes a student of how people read, and how they listen.

“He learns that most readers come away from their reading not with a clear precise detailed registration of its contents on their mind, but rather with a vague misty idea which was formed as much by the pace and the proportions and the music of the writing as by the literal words themselves.”

“And he learns that the reader reads with his ego, his emotions, with his compulsions, his prejudices, his urges and his aspirations… and that he plots with his brain to rationalize the facts until they become the tools of his desire.”

“The most powerful element in advertising is the truth.”

“You can say the right thing about a product and nobody will listen. You’ve got to say it in such a way that people will feel it in their gut. Because if they don’t feel it, nothing will happen.”

“Forget words like ‘hard sell’ and ‘soft sell.’ That will only confuse you. Just be sure your advertising is saying something with substance, something that will inform and serve the consumer, and be sure you’re saying it like it’s never been said before.”

“Because an appeal that makes logical sense is no guarantee that it will work.”

“A great ad campaign will make a bad product fail faster. It will get more people to know it’s bad.”

“Be relevant. A wonderfully creative execution will get the big ‘So what’ if it isn’t meaningful to their life, family, business etc. And always opt for an ad that’s relevant over one that’s exciting and irrelevant.”

“Be simple. Not simpleminded, but single minded. Who has the time or the desire to listen to advertising?”

“Safe ideas can kill you. If it’s been done before, your competition will be ready for it. Your only chance of beating the competition is with advertising they’ve never seen before.  Which means you’ve never seen it before either! Be brave.”

“Word of mouth is the best medium of all.”

There are many more, but if you think about each of the statements above and apply them to the messages you create for the people who have entrusted the success of their businesses to you, you will serve them at a very high level.

Thank you Bill.

© 1997-2011 Hedquist Productions, Inc.  All rights reserved.

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