Bill Bernbach

Last week most of the advertising industry trade magazines had articles about Bernbach on the centennial of his birthday. I thought I would contribute by relating the story of him, Edgar M. Bronfman and Chivas Regal.

Before I do, however, for those of you who are unfamiliar with him, here is some background on the man who revolutionized creativity in advertising – no, make that brand and product selling.

Bill Bernbach’s style of advertising changed brand communication. He was the anti “Mad Men” focusing on compelling messages that broke through the clutter and resonated with consumers. “The difference between the forgettable and the endurable is artistry,” was how he put it. So think about such ads as Avis “We Try Harder” or Volkswagen “Think Small” or “You don’t have to be Jewish to love Levy’s real Jewish rye bread.”

His effort on behalf of Chivas Regal is an interesting story as described by Edgar M. Bronfman in his book Good Spirits, and by Paul Pacult in A Double Scotch – How Chivas Regal and The Glenlivet Became Global Icons.

In the 1960’s after the acquisition of Chivas, the brand began to languish in the face of competition from such lighter scotches as Cutty Sark and J&B Rare. Edgar managed to convince his father that changes needed to be made to stem the sales declines. These included product reformulation, new packaging and a new ad campaign. Enter Bill Bernbach.

As the story goes, when Bernbach showed the new ads to Edgar there was one ad at the bottom of the pile that he kept hiding. When pushed by Bronfman to reveal it, Bernbach pointed out that it was intended as an introductory ad for the new package and that he was concerned that Edgar wouldn’t dare run it.

The headline read “What Idiot Changed the Chivas Regal Package?” To his credit, Bronfman saw the benefits of the brashness and self-mocking tone and, to make a long story short, the ad ran.

The team at Doyle, Dane and Bernbach went on to change the brand’s fortune by understanding consumers and reaching them through challenges and taunts that were fun and resonated well. My favorite – “If you can’t taste the difference in Chivas Regal, save the extra two dollars.” And, the classic, “The Chivas Regal of Scotches.”

In addition to the central print campaign, the agency created a cartoon campaign, which picked up on the theme. A particularly memorable one showed a ship leaving the dock with a case of Chivas left behind. The caption read, “They’ll be back. They forgot the Chivas.”

Did the creativity translate into brand sell? According to the Pacult book, when DDB took over in 1962, the brand was selling around 135,000 cases. By 1979, sales had risen to 1.1 million.

All I can close with is a rewording of another great Bernbach ad – “Mama Mia, that’s effective advertising.”

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