New book on Bill Bernbach reveals the man behind the myth.

June 15, 2009

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Apparently one of the few legitimate Gods of Advertising was more mortal than we thought. According to a new book written by a colleague of his at Doyle Dane Bernbach (former head of PR, Doris Willens), world famous creative director Bill Bernbach was often insecure and petty, and could be cruel and offensive toward his staff. At least that’s what I gleaned from the review given to the book by AdAge reporter, Rupal Parekh.

“Nobody’s Perfect. Bill Bernbach and the Golden Age of Advertising” is the book’s title. I haven’t read it yet. (Right now I’m plowing through John Updike’s “Rabbit” novels –a major undertaking!) Based on its Amazon number the book appears to be selling fairly well, which comes as no surprise. Bernbach was the Alex Bogusky or Lee Clow of his day. He changed the Mad Men era of hard sell advertising into the creatively driven apparatus most of us aspire to. I won’t go into all the creative highlights (Chivas, VW, Avis, etc) but like many of my peers I studied all of them as a newcomer in advertising. Anyone reading this post ought to as well. ‘Nuff said!

What I’m interested in here is the revelation that Mr. Bernbach may have been an insecure creep. We tend to elevate our heroes into sainthood (unfairly) and one imagines Bill Bernbach as an inspired guru, nurturing and kind.

Ridiculous. Not only was he a suit-wearing businessman interested in making money but it appears he had numerous character defects as well. Just like you and just like me. I’ve been writing about insecurity in the creative department since starting this blog. I’ve ruminated about our unfortunate tendency toward criticism and our inability to accept it. For better and worse, I’ve likened the creative department to Romper Room.

Yet even I put Bernbach and his peers on a pedestal. As far as the advertising his shop created it’s totally deserved. But as a human being I’m afraid he’s just like the rest of us. Finding this out does not make me sad. In fact I find the revelations freeing. Lord knows I struggle with the competitive nature of our business and dealing with all the egos including my own. Glad to hear old Bill did too!

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8 Responses to “New book on Bill Bernbach reveals the man behind the myth.”

  1. Steff –

    am gradually emerging from the tunnel of the fourth edition of duh book – 470+ pages – aaarghh!

    will connect w. you in somewhat near future.

    best

    bendinger

  2. SRP said

    Bruce-
    “Duh book” being what? Updike? The Bernbach story is onl a couple hundred pages.

  3. Andy Webb said

    I prefer to just look at the work rather than the personality behind it.

    Might be why I don’t pay too much attention to the lyrics of songs that I like. In too many cases, they disappoint once I finally understand them!

  4. SRP said

    Andy-
    True, it’s the work that ultimately matters but I’m fascinated by the personalities of my heroes, warts and all. It can lead to teachable moments.

  5. Van Gould said

    I agree, it’s so interesting to read about the faults behind the genius of gods like Bernbach. If he had actually been perfect, would the work have been so magnificent?

  6. Herodotus said

    Read this post by Mr. Postaer again. Slowly. He hasn’t read the friggen book; he doesn’t know the people involved; yet he accepts what he has heard of in this psycho-revisionism as truth.
    Postaer should write about the Rabbit books he’s reading or get the Cliffs Notes so you can catch up to the text.
    “Bernbach was the Alex Bogusky or Lee Clow of his day.” Mr. Postaer writes.
    If true, by extension, Postaer is the Sammy Glick or Sidney Falco of HIS day.

  7. SRP said

    Herod-

    I understand your frustration. Nothing worse than book reviewers who don’t read the books! However, I’m not a book reviewer. I was not advocating the book, nor discounting it. The idea that our heroes are flawed is what interested me. Sorry for any confusion.
    -

  8. Dominik said

    Dear all

    Here you will find interesting comments on Bill Bernbach by George Lois: http://vimeo.com/5339850

    Best,

    Dominik

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