Ask any creative to name their idol and there’s a good chance they’ll say “Bill Bernbach”. At the tail end of the 1940s, Bernbach left Grey Advertising with his colleague Ned Doyle, and they went into business with Mac Dane, who had barely started his own small agency. Doyle Dane Bernbach – DDB – was born.
And it changed everything. In an era when the strategy of most agencies was to repeat, repeat, REPEAT a slogan or a jingle until it drilled into consumers’ brains, DDB tried a different approach. Witty, conversational, respectful of intelligence, underpinned by copy that was fun to read and imagery inflected with art.
Most of you, I’m sure, know the rest. Volkswagen’s legendary “Think Small” print ad, followed by many more. DDB spearheaded what became known as “the creative revolution”. In 1986 it made history of a different kind when it became part of the three-way merger – with Needham Harper and BBDO – that formed Omnicom.
DDB has never relinquished its quest for creativity (and indeed, it still works for VW in many markets around the world). So how did it perform at the Epica Awards in 2020 – which was a difficult year for the industry, to say the very least?
Answer: not too shabbily at all. For a start there was a Gold with "The women's protection", for online insurance company Zurich Connect, which transformed its employees into a squad tackling online violence against women. The employees searched for offensive comments on social media and reported them, making it highly likely that they would be removed. Consumers who found such comments could tag Zurich Connect and join the clean- up operation.
Violence against women was also at the heart of “The Drawing”, a drawing by a child orphaned due to domestic violence, which was discreetly placed in IKEA stores across Italy. The picture went unnoticed – which was the entire point, as a viral video raised awareness of the often hidden atrocities that lead to femicide in the home. Another win was “No Show Room” for Volkswagen (of course): a hidden and re- mote car showroom that people were encouraged to find by following encrypted clues across a mind-boggling array of media. The first person to find the secretive showroom won the new four wheel drive Passat.
Finally, there was the brilliantly simple “App Icon Switch”. To let customers know that McDrive was open during lockdown in Germany, the design of the McDonald’s app was changed from the iconic golden M to a useful piece of information: “McDrive Open”. The medium really was the message. Beautiful, direct – and, of course, creative.