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Making Lemonade: Doyle Dane Bernbach and the Creative Revolution

"Think Small"

Doyle Dane Bernbach, 1962, Volkswagen "Think Small" Campaign, Print. 

Mad Men (Season 1, Episode 3)

Sterling Cooper copywriters admire the 1962 "Lemon" ad from the Volkwagen Campaign

Doyle Dane Bernbach stands out among 1960s advertising agency as being particularly reflective of broader cultural themes because of the way it came to define the Creative Revolution in 1960s advertising and produced some of the most innovative campaigns of the time. Fed up with creative restrictions and lack of innovation, Ned Doyle and Bill Bernbach left their jobs at the predominately Jewish Grey Advertising firm in 1949 to collaborate with Mac Dane and start their own advertising agency. From its very inception, DDB defied the conventions of traditional 1950s advertising firms, with the three partners flipping a coin to determine the order of their names in the firm's name and including no punctuation or ampersand so as to let nothing, not even a comma, come between them. They hired copywriters and artists purely based on talent rather than credentials and encouraged a highly collaborative rather than hierarchical environment, embodied by Bernbach’s (who became creative director the agency) office, which featured a round table surrounded by five chairs instead of a singular, imposing desk.

The agency began work on small, local New York accounts like Ohrbach’s Department Store and Levy’s Bread before landing the Volkwagen account in 1959. A car account tended to represent an opportunity for an agency to launch itself to national status, but Volkswagen fittingly presented DDB with a unique set of challenges as a funny-looking, unapologetically German car seeking to enter the market a mere fourteen years after World War II. The account was assigned to Julian Koenig on copy and Helmut Krone on art, and instead of trying to turn Volkswagen into something it wasn’t, Koenig and Krone embraced Volkswagen’s quirkiness. Instead of using the classic car advertising tropes like a voluptuous woman or a suburban scene, they shook the advertising world with their tongue-in-cheek ads that acknowledged and celebrated the eccentricity of the car. The firm gained instant fame for the revolutionary campaign and grew at an incredible rate into the 1960s. Bill Bernbach emerged as the agency’s visionary and his leadership shaped it into a hotbed of innovation as it gained accounts including Quaker Oats, Mobil Oil, Avis Car Rentals, and Lyndon Johnson’s presidential campaign. Throughout the 1960s, DDB redefined advertising through an unparalleled fusion of art and language, clever copy, witty headlines, and most importantly, candor with consumers. Though DDB relied on the perpetuation of a consumer culture as its raison d’être, its willingness to challenge conventions in advertising hinted at the burgeoning desire to redefine American society that was quietly but increasingly capturing the American psyche. The 1960s would usher in many more revolutions, but the Creative Revolution and DDB represent an important moment in the history of advertising and its ever-changing role in American culture.  

Making Lemonade: Doyle Dane Bernbach and the Creative Revolution