Dynamic Marketing Communiqué

Think BIG or small? Here’s how this marketer encouraged thinking BIG while keeping advertisements minimal. [Monday: Marketing Marvels]

March 25, 2024

What sticks to you the most in campaigns and advertisements: The traditional ads or unconventional ads?

As a marketer, knowing the answer to this question is important before releasing any marketing content. Since many customers prefer unconventional and new ad formats, creativity and impact must always be present in the ideation and execution process. 

In short, advertisers must create exceptional content to become memorable.

Did you know that 70 years ago, a great marketer left his previous agency because he was displeased with the way that company created campaigns? He wanted to blaze new trails and abandon mediocrity, but the firm didn’t listen to his ideas.

That’s where his timeless wisdom and lasting influence in the field of marketing began to take shape.

His name?

Bill Bernbach!

Photo from Medium

William “Bill” Bernbach was an American advertising executive and copywriter who transformed the world of advertising with his gentle yet creative techniques. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from New York University and benefited from a diverse background in philosophy, business administration, and music—all of which helped him achieve a successful advertising career.

One of Bernbach’s notable—although short—experiences in advertising was being the creative director at Grey Advertising from 1945 to 1949. That time, he worked with other members of the company to form his copy/art (copywriters and art director) team.  

Then, in 1947, Bernbach wrote a letter to Grey Advertising, expressing his genuine concern for the growing company. His worry was that as the firm expands, it might become too focused on techniques, settle for mediocrity, and lose its creative spark. At the end of the letter, he encouraged the agency to blaze new trails and prove that good taste, art, and writing can lead to effective advertising.

However, Bernbach did not receive the response he desired from the firm. He stayed for two more years at Grey Advertising and in 1949, he left out of dissatisfaction. 

In that same year, Bernbach, along with other marketers Ned Doyle and Maxwell Dane, co-founded the marketing agency DDB, which stands for Doyle, Dane, and Bernbach.

There, the three industry professionals began changing the advertising scene through legacies that continue to be the blueprint for many marketers today.

Some revolutionary DDB campaigns that Bernbach led include the “Think Small” ad for Volkswagen Beetle in 1959, “You Don’t Have to be Jewish to Love Levy’s,” for Levy’s Rye Bread in 1961, “We Try Harder” for Avis in 1962, and “Mikey” for Life Cereal in 1972. 

Let’s take a closer look at Volkswagen Beetle’s “Think Small” campaign… 

“Think Small” changed the world of advertising since its release. Back then, Volkswagen was fortunate to work with Bernbach in selling a “small, ugly, slow, and cheap” car in the U.S. despite strong competition from more esteemed car models.

How did Bernbach and DDB effectively pull this off? 

Bernbach and his team used a minimalist and humorous approach for the car company’s campaign, breaking the conventional rules of advertising through a unique design. First, the team unconventionally placed the Volkswagen logo between the second and third columns of the text, which was different from the usual ads that largely displayed brand logos on advertisement materials. 

Second, the team used black and white photography, which was in contrast to other colorful ads during that time. 

These new tactics not only differentiated Volkswagen’s advertising but also sparked a creative revolution in the world of marketing. The campaign got lots of consumers’ attention and made Volkswagen a popular choice as one of the top-selling imported cars during the 1960s in the U.S.   

Clearly, this campaign stands as a testament to Bernbach’s unwavering commitment to making a meaningful impact in the industry. Beyond the praises from the brands he worked with, his influence was further underscored by recognition from prestigious awards organizations such as:

  • Induction into into the Copywriters Hall of Fame in 1964
  • Receiving the “Man of the Year Award” in 1966
  • Being named the “Top Advertising Agency Executive” in 1969 
  • Receiving the “Golden Plate Award” from the American Academy of Achievement in 1976
  • Induction into the American Advertising Federation Hall of Fame in 1976

Advertising Age also named Bernbach as the most influential advertising professional of the 20th century.

Bernbach’s Essential Elements for Timeless Advertising Masterpieces 

It’s evident that Bernbach’s impact on the marketing field was anything but small. Here are some significant insights we can glean from his brilliant mind:

  1. There is no specific formula for creating remarkable advertisements.

Throughout Bernbach’s journey, he had proven that advertising is an art of persuasion. He was unconventional and never settled for mediocrity. He believed that in a constantly evolving market, sticking to “typical” advertising is a danger to a business. So, standing out is important. 

As he said:

“In advertising, not to be different is virtually suicidal.”

  1. A creative team must consist of a harmonious team of skilled art directors and copywriters.

Bernbach valued diversity and focused on hiring people that could offer different points of view so their outputs can reach a wider audience. He believed that teamwork and idea exchange among skilled creatives help improve an ad’s creativity and organization.

According to him:

“Let us prove to the world that good taste, good art,
and good writing can be good selling.”

  1. Marketing requires the art of being truthful.

Bernbach believed in the power of being honest in his ads. He and his DDB team achieved this in the Volkswagen “Think Small” campaign by embracing the Beetle car’s flaws while making it appealing through simple and unconventional campaign materials.

He said:

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

  1. There is power in simplicity.

In advertising, simplicity is more effective than complexity. Bernbach advocated for minimalist approaches in copy and imagery, while maintaining clever headlines to create impactful and award-winning advertisements. His emphasis on simplicity made messages easier to understand and remember.

In his words:

“It’s not just what you say that stirs people. It’s the way that you say it.”

Overall, the most significant and life-changing lesson we can glean from today’s “Marvel” is the importance of not settling for mediocrity in advertising. Bernbach emphasized the need to be “different” when the market is filled with “ordinary.” 

Bernbach also wanted advertisers to focus on adapting marketing techniques to ideas rather than the other way around. He revolutionized the advertising industry by promoting teamwork between art directors and writers, leading to more appealing advertisements.

Thank you, Bernbach, for this wonderful legacy in the field of advertising!


In today’s tech-driven age, new marketing ideas abound. However, Bernbach’s timeless principles still shape various marketing concepts, underscoring his lasting influence in the industry and serving as a valuable source of inspiration for present and future marketers.

It’s true that the market is ever-evolving, with new competitors and products emerging constantly… but why limit yourself to mediocrity when you can strive for excellence?

By considering Bernbach’s timeless advice and insightful messages, you and your business can also explore greater opportunities to surpass the ordinary. 

About The Dynamic Marketing Communiqué’s
“Mondays: Marketing Marvels”

Too often, industry experts and the marketing press sing the praises of some brand or company’s marketing strategy. 

… only for the audience to later find out that its product was a flop, or worse, that the brand or company went bankrupt.

The true ROI in marketing can’t be separated from the business as a whole. 

What good is a marketing case study if one can’t prove that the company’s efforts actually paid off?

At the end of the day, either the entire business is successful or it isn’t. And the roles of marketing and communication are always paramount to that success. 

Every Monday, we publish a case study that highlights the world’s greatest marketing strategies, marketers, and communicators. 

However, the difference between our articles and the numerous ones out there is that we will always make certain that the firm really did generate and demonstrate earning power worthy of study in the first place in keeping with a person’s leadership skills in the area of marketing and/or communication.

We’ll also study the greatest marketing fails and analyze what they did wrong, or what they needed to improve. We all make mistakes, but better we learn from others’ mistakes—and earlier, rather than later.

Hope you find this week’s topic interesting and helpful. 

Stay tuned for next Monday’s “Marketing Marvels!”


Kyle Yu
Head of Special Projects
Valens Dynamic Marketing Capabilities
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