DDB Worldwide is one of the three main advertising networks within the Omnicom marketing services group, and it maintains a close working relationship within the group with marketing services networks Rapp and Interbrand. Although it prefers to keep a lower profile than some of its peers, DDB has consistently ranked as one of the global industry's most highly regarded advertising agencies, regularly topping polls of creative awards. Its principal founder Bill Bernbach is generally considered to be the single most influential creative force of the post-war era, responsible for introducing wry, ironic humour and striking image-led campaigns into advertising for the first time. More recently, though, the network has wrestled with weaker performance at key outposts in the US and UK, especially on smaller regional accounts, and the main advertising agency has to some extent become overshadowed by its digital subsidiary Tribal DDB.
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Free to all users | see full profile for current activities: DDB was founded in 1949, effectively as a breakaway from Grey Advertising, by a triumvirate comprising legendary copywriter Bill Bernbach, account executive "Ned" Doyle and administration head Max Dane. Doyle was to some extent the elder statesmen of the three. Born in 1902, James Edwin Doyle grew up in New Jersey. After graduating college on a football scholarship he took a passage on a tramp steamer, ending up in Europe for several years before making his way back to New York to study law. Although he passed the examination for admission to the New York bar in 1931, he chose instead to go into advertising sales, initially for Cosmopolitan, and later for Good Housekeeping. By the late 1930s Doyle was working at Look magazine as advertising manager, where the quietly spoken and self-effacing Maxwell Dane, four years younger than him, was promotions director, overseeing administration of the magazine's sales and advertising. Later, Doyle moved on again, ending up this time at Grey, where he first encountered the man who was to play such an important role in the ad industry of the 1960s and beyond.
Bill Bernbach was the baby among the three founders of DDB, born in 1911 in New York's Bronx. It was a creative household - Bernbach's father was a designer of women's clothing. After graduating from New York University in 1933, young Bill Bernbach joined the Schenley distillery as an office boy and worked his way up to the advertising department. Later he was hired to write speeches and advertising copy for Schenley's chairman Grover Whalen, after he was appointed as president of the 1939 New York World's Fair. Subsequently he spent a short period at the William Weintraub agency, which was in some ways to provide a model for the later Doyle Dane Bernbach, not least in the prominence it gave to art direction and the melting pot of different racial backgrounds among its employees, which was a marked contrast to the traditional WASP culture of most other advertising agencies. In particular, Bernbach was strongly influenced by Weintraub's brilliant art director Paul Rand, an accomplished graphic designer who had recently overhauled Esquire magazine and would go on to design corporate logos for IBM and others. Rand provided Bernbach with a crash-course in avant garde graphic art and design techniques in the the couple of months before he left for military service.
After World War II, Bernbach joined Grey Advertising in 1945, and quickly rose to the position of copy chief. Grey was noted as a specialist in retail campaigns at the time. The agency had to a large extent avoided the pull towards scientific research that so obsessed the likes of JWT and Y&R, and tended instead to specialise in comparatively straightforward fast-turnaround copy. This suited Bernbach, but he also found himself frustrated that Grey didn't allow much scope for creativity. Famously, in 1947, Bernbach penned a memo to his boss which expressed some of these concerns. "I'm worried that we're going to fall into the trap of bigness, that we're going to worship techniques instead of substance. There are a lot of great technicians in advertising... But there's one little rub. Advertising is fundamentally persuasion and persuasion happens to be not a science but an art. I don't want academicians. I don't want scientists. I don't want people who do the right things. I want people who do inspiring things… Let us blaze new trails. Let us prove to the world that good taste, good art, good writing can be good selling."
The tone of the memo makes Bernbach sound like a rebel, even an early beatnik, but in fact he was nothing of the sort, a short, plain-looking fellow who away from the office spent a very normal family life in Brooklyn. Mary Wells Lawrence, who worked for Bernbach in the 1960s before founding her own agency, described him as being "shorter than he sounded", with "a wary half-smile, cow's milk eyes, pale skin and soft shoulders". Nevertheless, she said, "he communicated such a powerful inner presence that he mowed everyone around him down and out of sight. There was something volcanic; something unsettling going on... In his peak years many people were afraid of him." Blazing new trails didn't fit into Grey's plans, and as the agency got bigger, Bernbach began to hanker for the freedom of a small agency. He proposed this to fellow staffers Ned Doyle and Herb Strauss. The latter dropped out, later becoming president of Grey. Instead Doyle suggested his old colleague Maxwell Dane, who had by now left Look magazine to set up his own small ad agency.
The trio started in Dane's modest offices on the top floor at 350 Madison Avenue, at a cut price rent because the elevator didn't go that far. Employees and visitors had to get out one and a half floors lower and walk up the stairs. Bernbach quickly set about blazing new trails in the structure and working processes of the new shop. One such innovation was the elevation of graphic art to a level of prominence it had never previous enjoyed in advertising. Until now, advertising art had been regarded as little more than pure illustration, something designed merely to support the accompanying sales copy. Bernbach disagreed with that approach, arguing that "People get an impression, feeling, vibration about an ad long before they really look at the picture and read the copy." He reversed the traditional hierarchy, promoting art to equal billing at the very least with the body copy. In this new approach, the viewer's attention was grabbed by a single striking image, while the text delivered a followthrough with clever, witty copy which left the viewer smiling at the end. Sometimes, the text didn't ever bother to explain the product or its virtues, an approach that was truly revolutionary at the time. Instead, Bernbach encouraged to seek and to illustrate a deeper insight about the client's product. "Artistry, by and large," he argued, "is having deep insights into human nature and then expressing it in a very, very fresh way - an original way.'' In support of this new style Bernbach also effectively invented the concept of the creative team, promoting art directors to equal billing with copywriters and matching them as a single unit, when they had previously worked separately. He was also a great delegator, leader and teacher. Many of the ads generally credited to him personally were actually created by his team, under the supervision of art director Bob Gage and copy chief Phyllis Robinson, but no ad left the agency without being checked by him first.
It was far from clear, however, whether this revolutionary approach would win over clients and early on Doyle sounded a note of caution, warning his partners that "there aren't enough advertisers who appreciate our kind of advertising for us ever to get over $20m." However Doyle Dane Bernbach did start with one account, taken with them from Grey, for a New York department store called Ohrbach's. Bernbach's new approach for the store seemed to epitomise the difference between the kind of advertising he was after and the one he was forced to adopt at Grey. Instead of mentioning prices and sales, Bernbach's ads sold an idea first and foremost visually. The new agency's debut campaigns for Ohrbach's were often primarily visual jokes. The most famous pictured a cat in an elegant and expensive-looking hat, smoking a cigarette in a long holder, with the caption "I found out about Joan", and explaining "cattily" in the copy that Joan dressed well by buying cheap at Ohrbach's. Another featured a man carrying a cardboard cut-out of his wife. "Bring in your wife, and for just a few dollars we'll give you a new woman."
It was followed by Levy's rye bread ("You don't have to be Jewish to love Levy's" under a picture of a Native American Indian or a Chinaman chomping on a rye bread sandwich) and El Al Airlines. The agency's biggest success during the middle 1950s was the campaign which established Polaroid's new instant camera, which dispensed with text altogether in favour of unadorned striking Polaroid snaps. Yet these were all quite modest accounts. Doyle Dane Bernbach won armfuls of creative medals from its peers, but billings were small, still less than $30m by the end of the decade, when the major agencies were all well over $100m.
The breakthrough came from a quite unexpected source. After chugging along quietly for a decade or so on other small accounts, in 1959 Doyle Dane won the account for the launch of the Volkswagen Beetle in the US. Originally conceived as a symbol of Nazi Germany, this car seemed the least likely of assignments for an agency many of whose staff were Jewish and whose three best-known clients were all Jewish-owned. A small, oddly-shaped import car also seemed at first an impossible sell, given the long-standing American fascination for big, showy gas-guzzlers. But under Bernbach's tutelage the creative team who got the assignment, copywriter Julian Koenig and art director Helmut Krone, took the decision to turn the Volkswagen's apparent defects into virtues in their own right. In page ads dominated by a straightforward, unadorned image of the car, a huge headline shouted, "Think Small" or "Lemon". Having grabbed the reader's attention and interest, the accompanying copy then made the sale in elegantly spare and witty text. "Lemon. This Volkswagen missed the boat. The chrome strip on the glove compartment is blemished and must be replaced… We pluck the lemons; you get the plums."
Culturally, the timing couldn't have been better either. As a complete opposite to traditional American cars in both appearance and features, the Beetle was quickly adopted by the country's fast-growing counter-culture movement, and this unprepossessing import was transformed into the most successful foreign car ever sold in the US, shifting some 15m units by 1972. The campaign cemented Doyle Dane Bernbach's position as an undisputed creative champion among ad agencies. Copywriter John Noble said later, "It got so I didn't want to tell anyone outside the agency I worked on Volkswagen. At parties they treated you as though you'd written a great novel. I thought, enough already, let's talk about something else." That something else turned out to be an equally dynamic campaign for car rental company Avis, the clear #2 in the market behind acknowledged leader Hertz. Again, the secret of the campaign (by Krone again, this time with copywriter Paula Green) was to take an apparent defect and turn it into an honest virtue: "Avis only No 2 in rent a cars. So why go with us? We try harder. (When you're not the biggest, you have to.)… we can't afford to take you for granted. Go with us next time. The line at our counter is shorter."
Those two accounts were among the most celebrated advertising campaigns of the 1960s, and led to a steady stream of major new clients including American Airlines, Heinz, Sony, Gillette and Mobil. Another benchmark was the ad that was later both lauded and vilified for introducing a new tactic of negative campaigning into political advertising. In 1964, Doyle Dane Bernbach was hired by Lyndon B Johnson to run his campaign for the 1964 presidential election against the conservative Republican candidate Barry Goldwater. The agency came up with what would become a notorious but iconic television commercial, generally known as Daisy, in which a little girl is shown picking the petals off a daisy. As she counts off the number of petals her voice is gradually replaced by a man's voice, also counting down, but in the style of a missile launch. The little girl looks up to the sky, and her image is replaced by a white flash and then the mushroom cloud from a nuclear explosion. Lyndon Johnson's voice then takes over, warning "These are the stakes. To make a world in which all of God's children can live, or to go into the dark. We must either love each other, or we must die." The ad plays out with the call to "Vote for President Johnson on November 3. The stakes are too high for you to stay home."
The ad played only once, during an NBC Monday Night Movie in September 1964, but was greeted the following morning by howls of outrage from the Republican Party who castigated Johnson for the ad's implicit suggestion that Barry Goldwater would carry America into a nuclear conflict with Russia. As a result, all the TV news networks then reran the ad in its entirety for free to illustrate their coverage of the row for the benefit for viewers who had missed the commercial the first time around. (Johnson was duly elected. There was bitter irony in the fact that, although Johnson steered clear of a nuclear conflict on his watch, he did oversee the escalation of the no less brutal Vietnam war).
After a glorious 1960s, Doyle Dane Bernbach fared less well in the decade that followed. Doyle retired in 1969; Dane in 1971. Bernbach himself took the role of chairman in 1968, passing over the role of CEO to Joseph Daly, and it became evident that the agency missed Doyle and Dane's guiding hands. Some clients complained that the agency was too interested in pursuing creativity for its own sake, and spent too little time explaining their products. The agency lost its first major account in 1970 when Alka-Seltzer transferred its $20m account to Wells Rich Greene, the agency started by former Bernbach employee Mary Wells. Another $15m of business walked out in 1971, followed by more than $30m in 1972, including Lever Brothers, Sara Lee and Quaker Oats. Performance rallied later in the decade after the appointment of Jim Heekin as president. Another early client, Polaroid, also saw a huge upturn in its fortunes following the introduction of its revolutionary one-step camera, and billings soared. But after Bernbach's death in 1982 the agency again lost its focus, as well as several clients. By mid-decade the agency had opened preliminary merger talks with both BBDO and Needham Harper Worldwide.
Needham Harper had a much longer pedigree than Doyle Dane Bernbach. The Chicago-based agency had started out in 1924 as the Maurice H Needham Agency, before becoming Needham Louis & Brorby five years later. It was a pioneer in radio advertising during the 1930s, and among other achievements was the first agency to integrate advertising into the actual storyline of a radio show, on behalf of SC Johnson. It also created long-running hits in Fibber McGee (also for Johnson) and its spin-off The Great Gildersleeve (for Kraft). In 1964, under president Paul Harper, the agency merged with New York rival Doherty Clifford Steers & Shenfield in what was then the second-biggest ad agency merger. Later the agency, now Needham Harper & Steers established a significant international presence, forming alliances with SH Benson in London and Havas Conseil in Paris. In the 1970s, it won two major accounts in McDonalds and Anheuser-Busch which DDB holds to this day. (McDonalds in fact shifted its business to Leo Burnett in the 1980s, but it was recaptured in 1990). In the 1980s under new CEO Keith Reinhard, the agency continued to extend its international network, becoming Needham Harper Worldwide.
The catalyst for the merger which created Omnicom was a preliminary hostile takeover bid by British upstarts Saatchi & Saatchi. In response, Doyle Dane Bernbach firmed up its negotiations with both Needham Harper and BBDO, while also continuing detailed discussions with Saatchis. According to BBDO's Allen Rosenshine, the architect of the merger, the capture of Doyle Dane Bernbach by BBDO and Needham Harper instead of by Saatchi & Saatchi was an extremely close shave, resolved in the course of a single evening as Doyle Dane's board debated which of the two rival offers they should accept. Doyle Dane and Needham Harper subsequently merged under a management team led by the latter's Keith Reinhard, adopting the new name of DDB Needham, and then pooled their resources with BBDO under a shared holding company. The Needham tag was gradually phased out by 2000. Keith Reinhard ceded the role of CEO in 2001 to Ken Kaess, former president DDB Worldwide. After just four years, however, Kaess was forced to step down when he was diagnosed with cancer. Tragically, he died in March 2006, aged just 51. Long-time chairman Keith Reinhard also retired in 2006, passing on that role to chief creative officer Bob Scarpelli, a DDB lifer for more than 30 years. Chuck Brymer was recruited from branding agency Interbrand to become CEO. see full profile for current activities
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