William Bernbach (1911-1982)

Founder and creative director of advertising agency Doyle Dane Bernbach

Updated: November 29, 2011

William (Bill) Bernbach was the creative director and one of the founders of the New Yorker advertising agency Doyle Dane Bernbach, which ran many innovative ad campaigns such as “Think Small” for Volkswagen of America.

After graduating from New York University with a B.A. in 1932, Bernbach took his first job in the mailroom of Schenley Distillers Company. During the New York World’s Fair in 1939, Bernbach worked as a ghostwriter for Grover Whalen, whom he had known from his time at Schenley. When the fair ended, Bernbach joined the Willliam Weintraub ad agency as a copywriter. His career was placed on hold for two years when he served in the army during World War II. After his return to New York in 1943, Bernbach worked for the fragrance company Coty before he joined Grey Advertising. Meanwhile, the former copywriter had climbed up the career ladder and was now vice president-creative director.

During his years at Grey, Bernbach got to know vice president account Ned Doyle. Together with Maxwell Dane they opened their own ad agency, Doyle Dane Bernbach, on June 1, 1949, at 350 Madison Avenue. While the administrative and promotional aspects of the agency were left to the hands of Dane and Doyle, Bernbach served as the creative head, directing the campaigns for clients such as Avis Car Rental, Levy’s Rye Bread, and Polaroid. A real breakthrough for the agency came with the Volkswagen of America account in 1959. Bernbach introduced the agency to VW manager Carl Hahn and was in charge of the Beetle campaign for the US market, popularizing the car with American consumers. His advertisements incorporated creativity, simplicity, and humor, and are still considered highly innovative.

As an American advertising expert, Bernbach helped catalyze Volkswagen’s transatlantic expansion, translating its brand image for the American market. Volkswagen’s decision to work closely with Bernbach rather than to export a centralized advertising campaign from Germany provides an example of cross-cultural cooperation in transatlantic marketing.

Selected Publications

Bernbach, William. Bill Bernbach Said. New York: DDB Needham Worldwide, 1989.

Selected Bibliography

Frank, Thomas. The Conquest of Cool: Business Culture, Counterculture, and the Rise of Hip Consumerism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997.

Levenson, Bob. Bill Bernbach's Book: A History of the Advertising That Changed the History of Advertising. New York: Villard Books, 1987.

Lawrence, Mary Wells. A Big Life in Advertising. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002.

N.N. "Gefühle des Menschen ansprechen. Werbung ist keine Wissenschaft, sondern Kunst." Amerika-Handel Vol. 2. 1979 p. 20-21.

Willens, Doris. Nobody's Perfect: Bill Bernbach and the Golden Age of Advertising. [S.l.]: CreateSpace, 2009.

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"William Bernbach." (2021) In Transatlantic Perspectives, Retrieved September 18, 2021, from Transatlantic Perspectives: http://transatlanticperspectives.org/entry.php?rec=29