Bill: I warn you against believing advertising is a science. Advertising is an art; nothing memorable ever emerged from a formula.
Leo: I can’t give you a formula for success. But I can give you a foolproof formula for failure — just try to please everybody.
What would it be like to be caught in the middle of a conversation between Bill Bernbach and Leo Burnett? Most people don’t know this, but Bill and Leo were actually very good friends. They met frequently for lunch in New York during the 60s at Bill’s favorite restaurant at the Four Seasons where a corner table of The Grill Room hosted the conversations that revolutionized the advertising industry. While both men had opposing personal styles, their advertising philosophies were parallel. Together, they created a world of advertising that was big enough for both. And the rest of us that followed.
Bill: Let us blaze new trails. Let us prove to the world that good taste, good art and good writing can be good selling.
Leo: A small thought on a slick paper in full color won’t live. But a big thought on a scrap of cardboard will live forever.
So as we consider the changing face of advertising in Pakistan; not to mention, all that has changed in the last generation, it might be an idea to compare these giants from the advertising days of yore to prove their lasting value.
From the beginning, both Bill and Leo were copywriters who entered the Copywriters Hall of Fame on the same day. But their similarities go further. Both, for instance, were short (unless you saw them standing on their wallets). Both were kids from the streets who graduated university. Both worked in advertising. Both shared a profound love for the printed word. And, both founded their agencies within 15 years of each other.
Leo, who launched his legacy at the height of the Great Depression in 1935, was told that anyone crazy enough to open an ad agency in those days would soon be selling apples on the street. “Maybe so,” he replied, “but first I’ll give ’em away.” To this day, every Leo Burnett office worldwide welcomes you with a bowl of apples at their reception. In 1949, Bill left his post as creative head of Grey Advertising in New York to open his agency with Ned Doyle and Maxwell Dane. “It will be known as Doyle Dane Bernbach and nothing shall come between them, not even punctuation.” It’s true. Nothing did come between them, except time.
Bill: The truth isn’t the truth until people believe you.
Leo: I have learned that the greatest single thing to be achieved in advertising is believability.
Bill: We must not just believe in what we sell, but sell what we believe in.
Both men built their agencies and their reputations by simply revolutionising the way we talk to people. They felt that to talk with people was exponentially more rewarding than talking at them. This came at a time when most advertising consisted of functionalism, featureless product claims, a laundry list of attributes and singing product strategies. Sound familiar? Both believed so fervently in the essential humanity and dignity of their audience that they were smart enough to recognise the simple fact that people aren’t stupid. “Yes, there is a 12-year-old mentality in this country,” Bill argued, “… every six-year-old has one.”
Leo: Most writers, when they become sincere, are merely dull.
Bill: Dullness won’t sell your product, but neither will irrelevant brilliance.
They were the first to recognise that logic — as the basis for advertising — is illogical. The human brain is an organ for survival so it searches for advantage, not reason: everyone wants a better life, everyone chases their dreams and everyone longs for freedom from the menial. Both men changed the course of advertising forever by realising that people make decisions based not on fact, but emotion. It’s not how they think about you, but how they feel about you that counts. Example: What do you think of your new car? Answer: I love it.
Leo: As I have observed it, great advertising is deceptively and disarmingly simple. It has a common touch without being patronising.
Bill: The real giants of advertising have always been poets — men who jumped from facts into the realm of imagination and ideas.
Back in The Grill Room, one can still hear the thoughts both men shared — locked in mortal combat against all that was shoddy, banal or second-rate in a profession they both loved. Which is why it’s fitting to dedicate the next generation of advertising to something we may have forgotten along the way.