Back to the Classics: Bernbach and Ad Design

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This is my third column on the advertising innovations introduced by Bill Bernbach, the legendary creative director and founder of Doyle Dane Bernbach.

Everyone knew that Bernbach was a brilliant copywriter, but few realized that he also had the eye of an art director. He not only changed the way advertising was written, he changed the way it looked.
At the time Bernbach opened DDB in 1949, advertising art direction was abysmal. Print ads featured ridiculously staged color photos of well-coifed white people in idyllic situations. Check out the hideous Hertz ad below. Who the hell rents a car to drive to an ice skating rink that appears to be in Palm Springs?
Hertz Ad

Bernbach put a stake through the heart of this odious school of design. He and art directors Bob Gage and Helmut Krone began creating ads that utilized large fields of white space, minimal (but powerful) copy, loose illustrations and stark, black & white photography. DDB also killed the cloying, florid script typefaces that were prevalent at the time, replacing them with simple, modern faces like Futura and Helvetica.

DDB Ad #1 DDB Ad #2
This new style of art direction worked hand-in-hand with the agency’s already potent copy to deliver sales messages of astonishing power. The famous Avis campaign, featuring huge headlines and tiny, hand-drawn cartoons raised sales for the car rental company 28 percent in 18 months.

Thankfully, art directors never returned to the dreadful, overblown design tactics of the time before Bill Bernbach, and DDB’s art direction innovations are now the standard in all modern advertising … well, all good modern advertising.

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


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