Ogilvy or Bernbach: Which one was more influential?

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Ogilvy or Bernbach: Which one was more influential?

Ogilvy or Bernbach—comparing two advertising legends Two advertising visionaries.
Two very different approaches to marketing.

David Ogilvy and Bill Bernbach were both highly influential creative leaders. Both of them built incredibly successful agencies, and both are considered advertising legends today. But their approaches to advertising were quite different.

Ogilvy was a proponent of research and concept testing. Previously a door-to-door salesman, he advocated long, detailed copy that was informative and persuasive. He considered direct response techniques his “secret weapon.”

Bernbach07Bernbach, on the other hand, led the creative revolution of the 1960s. He was the first to have art directors and copywriters work together in teams (before Bernbach, copy and art were separate departments). His focus was on the power of ideas. Fresh thinking and originality were his key to success. “If your advertising goes unnoticed,” he once said, “everything else is academic.”

Ogilvy04Ogilvy relied on research

Ogilvy used research to analyze advertising effectiveness, and developed guidelines about what did and did not work.

Among his findings:
• Using celebrities reduces an ad’s persuasiveness
• Long-form commercials are more effective than short
• Black type is measurably more readable than reversed type

Bernbach stressed originality

Bernbach believed rules and guidelines were meaningless, because what worked one day didn’t necessarily work the next:

Bernbach01“There will be a time when NO headline is proper, and there will be a time when a headline IS proper. There will be a time when a logo is good, and there will be a time when using a logo is the worst thing you can do.”

Ogilvy looked down at “cute headlines and poetic copy.” He once famously said, “I don’t believe in tricky advertising. I don’t believe in cute advertising. I don’t believe in comic advertising—the people who perpetrate that kind of advertising have never had to sell anything in their lives.”

Ogilvy02“Cleverness doesn’t sell products and services. Original thinking in marketing is great, but not just for the sake of being witty or clever. If you aren’t thinking about connecting with your audience, building trust and selling your products or services when you sit down to write marketing copy, you need to reexamine your motivations.”

On this one point, Bernbach agreed. He believed creativity unto itself was not enough:

“Merely to let your imagination run riot, to dream unrelated dreams, to indulge in graphic acrobatics and verbal gymnastics is NOT being creative. The creative person has harnessed his imagination. He has disciplined it so that every thought, every idea, every word he puts down, every line he draws, every light and shadow in every photograph he takes, makes more vivid, more believable, more persuasive the original theme or product advantage he has decided he must convey.”

Bernbach02The power of strategy

Bernbach was a firm believer in focused ideas—creative concepts closely tied to product benefits. “The magic is in the product,” is another of his famous quotes.

“Be provocative. But be sure your provocativeness stems from your product. You are NOT right if in your ad you stand a man on his head JUST to get attention. You ARE right if you have him on his head to show how your product keeps things from falling out of his pockets.”

Ogilvy01So how do these two different points of view hold up today?

Bernbach’s focus on creativity and originality is still alive and well, and being practiced in agencies around the globe, particularly consumer agencies that specialize in branding and image advertising.

Ogilvy’s influence, especially his fondness for copy testing and direct response, has an obvious connection to the digital marketing techniques being used today. Ogilvy would have loved the detailed metrics of digital marketing, and the Internet’s ability to track sales.

“The general advertisers and their agencies know almost nothing for sure, because they cannot measure the results of their advertising.”

Bernbach06But that doesn’t mean one view is better than the other. Several studies have shown that creative advertising performs better than less creative approaches. A report from IPA, for example, found that award-winning campaigns are 11 times more effective than campaigns that do not win creative awards. And any digital marketer will tell you that Ogilvy’s teachings lead to better conversion rates and measurable ROI.

Why choose one or the other?

The most efficient marketing campaigns today build upon the work of both Ogilvy AND Bernbach, combining the benefits of branding with the techniques of direct response. Bernbach’s style of advertising builds awareness and positive word-of-mouth, while Ogilvy’s helps convert prospects and drive sales.

So the correct answer to Ogilvy or Bernbach is…BOTH.

If you want an example, just look at Apple. They’ve done highly effective brand advertising for years (I’m a Mac / I’m a PC, There’s an app for that, etc), all based on strong product benefits and powerful consumer insights (Bernbach would be proud). But then if you go to Apple.com and look at their website, you’ll find informative product copy, prominent offers and strong calls to action (thank you, David Ogilvy).

While some digital marketers may argue against brand advertising (you can’t measure its results! they say), the truth is, a strong brand makes digital marketing more effective.

Just ask the people at Nike, Mini Cooper, Target, Amazon, Home Depot, Verizon, AT&T…


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