A couple of years ago, AdAge wrote an excellent article reflecting on what would have been the 100th birthday of Bill Bernbach, co-founder of international advertising agency Doyle Dane Bernbach (DDB) and widely known as one of the industry’s leading visionaries – AdAge named him the “single most influential person in advertising in the 20th century.”
I went into the archives and re-read this article in which author David Andrew Lloyd compiled a Q&A using quotes from Bernbach. While Bernbach’s influence has endured, it’s clear that the industry as a whole has undergone a major revolution since Bernbach’s time and even in the past few years. There’s been a major shift in how brands interact with their customers in today’s era of technology – with social media creating new channels for interaction, and Big Data and analytics enabling increased personalization. Interestingly, Bernbach himself predicted this proliferation of media channels.
This got me thinking. How would I respond to these same questions through the lens of a contemporary Customer Experience (CX) leader? In the excerpt from “In Search of Bernbach, Advertising’s Greatest Thinker” below I’ve included my own thoughts and reflections.
LLOYD: What’s the key element for developing effective advertising?
BERNBACH: The purpose of advertising … is to sell. If that goal doesn’t permeate every idea you get, every word you write, every picture you take, you’re phony, and you ought to get out of the business.
HEIDEMANN: This has not changed. We are here to help our clients drive revenue.
LLOYD: Then how did you justify your radical style of showing empty bottles in ads, teeth marks in Levy’s bread, models without smiles?
BERNBACH: I realized that the growth of television, along with all the existing media, would result in consumers being bombarded with more messages than they could absorb. So the advertiser would have to deliver his message in a different way — memorably and artfully — if he was going to be “chosen” by the consumer.
HEIDEMANN: Ironically Bernbach’s prediction couldn’t be more true. The proliferation of channels and the distribution of content has only made it more difficult to reach the consumer. Now the consumer has access to information and peer review through social channels that was not possible 10 years ago. This means that content – both the style and type – is more important than ever, while the “one too many” model in which the zeitgeist of the masses was the defining characteristic of success now needs to be delivered at an audience or segment level.
LLOYD: What was wrong with the old scientific approach?
BERNBACH: I warn you against believing that advertising is a science. Artistry is what counts. The business is filled with great technicians, and unfortunately they talk the best game … but there’s one little problem. Advertising happens to be an art, not a science.
HEIDEMANN: The artistry now is in the experience and not just the message or the content. We need to craft experiences that are contextually appropriate, whether that is in the context of a device, channel or the customer’s state of mind.
LLOYD: Sounds blasphemous.
BERNBACH: The more you research, the more you play it safe, and the more you waste money. Research inevitably leads to conformity.
HEIDEMANN: In an emerging market in which technology is a disruptive force, research only gives you the rearview mirror. In today’s age, innovating around the experience requires agility and artistry.
LLOYD: At least you won’t offend anyone.
BERNBACH: (Laughing) Eighty-five percent of all ads don’t even get looked at. Think of it! You and I are the most extravagant people in the world. Who else is spending billions of dollars and getting absolutely nothing in return? We were worried about whether or not the American public loves us. They don’t even hate us. They just ignore us.
HEIDEMANN: That number is getting smaller and smaller over time. Interestingly the opportunity to connect is getting larger. Customers are expressing their preferences in more and more specific ways. The ability to deliver experiences and content that is meaningful and relevant will materially impact the engagement of an audience.
LLOYD: So how do you get into that desirable 15%?
BERNBACH: The only difference is an intangible thing that businessmen are so suspicious of, this thing called artistry. … Try riding the bus … and you just watch the people with Life magazine flipping though the pages at $60,000 a page, and not stopping and looking. The only thing that can stop them is this thing called artistry that says, “Stop, look, this is interesting.”
HEIDEMANN: By taking the time to understand consumers at an audience or segment level we have the opportunity to develop experiences and content that exactly meet their needs. No longer do we need to broadcast one-size-fits-all messaging. We can now speak to customers as individuals.
LLOYD: Shouldn’t market research improve those odds?
BERNBACH: Research can be dangerous. It should give you facts and not make judgments for you. … We are too busy measuring public opinion that we forget we can mold it.
HEIDEMANN: Research should be a measure of efficacy and a model for improving the connection between audiences. In today’s world taking the time to truly understand the expectations and desires of an audiencs is where research is valuable. In this way we can begin to craft and refine experiences that are considered relevant.
LLOYD: Advertisers still need to judge their ideas against something tangible.
BERNBACH: I have found, by and large — I know this is heresy — the better the marketing man, the poorer the judge of an ad. That’s because he wants to be sure of everything, and you can’t be sure of everything.
HEIDEMANN: We live in a world of measurement in which the quality of the experience and the content can be measured. Gone are the days when we had an opaque understanding of the efficacy of our advertising; now we can measure to the exact expected business outcome.
LLOYD: Doesn’t it seem logical to test your ads?
BERNBACH: (Grinning.) I’m beginning to believe, incidentally, that logic is one of the great obstacles to progress.
HEIDEMANN: Now that Branding, Experiences and Content can be modified with relative ease, the 21st century model requires constant attenuation and experimentation. We need to test, but more importantly, we need processes by which we measure and methodically improve the experience by audience.
LLOYD: How do you suggest advertisers make their “guesses” accurate?
BERNBACH: Know his product inside and out. Your cleverness must stem from knowledge of the product. … It’s hard to write well about something you know little about.
HEIDEMANN: Again in the 21st century model, it’s true that you need to produce with as much knowledge as you can accumulate, however it is as important or more important that you understand your audience.
LLOYD: Ha! That’s research. Why can’t you admit advertising is a science?
BERNBACH: (Annoyed.) The greatest advances in the history of science came from scientists’ intuition. Listen to one of the greatest scientific minds talking on the subject of physicists. “The supreme task of the physicist is to arrive at those universal elementary laws from which the cosmos can be built up by pure deduction. There is no logical path to these laws. Only intuition can reach them.” The scientist’s name was Albert Einstein, the greatest scientist of them all!
HEIDEMANN: Since the beginning of time, the experience has mattered and the experience is and should be different for each of us.
LLOYD: Nevertheless, clients want to feel secure before spending their money.
BERNBACH: In advertising the big problem facing the client is that he wants to be sure that his new campaign is foolproof. Even we can’t be sure that there are certain things that an ad must contain. They are no more predictable than that a play will be a hit or a book a best seller.
HEIDEMANN: We help companies fish, but mostly we are teaching them how to fish. They spent decades building institutional models of how to drive business which has been significantly disrupted by technology. Now they need to learn how to integrate these new capabilities into their business and organizational models.