Back to the Classics: Bernbach and the Creative Team

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Last month, I talked about the many innovations introduced by advertising legend Bill Bernbach that changed this industry from a group of hacks into one of the major forces of communication in American society. 

Far and away, the most important of these innovations was the development of the creative team. Before Bernbach, advertising copywriters were only responsible for “the words,” and cared little about big ideas or creative strategy. They usually strung together a series of sales cliches and (literally) stuffed the copy under the door of an art director. It was this designer’s job to make it “look pretty.” The resulting advertising was predictably wretched.

Bill Bernbach put an end to this. At his agency (Doyle Dane Bernbach), he began to choose specific copywriters and art directors with complementary personalities and talents, and formed them into creative teams. Each of these teams was assigned to a certain client, and together these two creatives were given joint responsibility for the overall concept.

DDB Creative Staff (2)

The formation of these teams dramatically improved the work and the morale inside the agency. One of Bernbach’s brilliant art directors, Bob Gage, explained it this way, “Two people who respect each other sit in the same room for a length of time and arrive at a state of free association, where the mention of one idea will lead to another idea and then to another. The combination of visuals and words form a third, bigger thing.” 

The fact that creative teams are still the standard at ad agencies 64 years later testifies to their effectiveness. Why is this model so successful? Bernbach said it best in a 1960 interview:

“When a team is given responsibility for their own work, it becomes their property. They own it. And they walk with their heads up, and they walk with pride.”  – – Bill Bernbach

Column written by Mark Carpenter, AAF Omaha Board Member &
Co-Chair Nebraska ADDYs Committee


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