The fundamental tools to create relevance today were already defined for us in the stable truths of our founder, Bill Bernbach


Issue 47: A Real Legend

Our Greatest Toolbox
After 54 years at DDB, VP Director of Administration, Nancy Underwood has retired. She began her career as the assistant to Messrs. Bernbach and Doyle and continued to support Mr. Bernbach until his death in 1982. While many fans are feeling the loss of Mad Men this year, Don Draper never would have made it at Doyle Dane Bernbach and, for us, Nancy’s departure is more bittersweet. For so many years, she kept Bill Bernbach’s legacy alive and reminded us what made DDB so unique, so stand-out that she was literally recommending other agencies to prospective clients who called, because we couldn’t handle them all. This week we also celebrate Bernbach’s birthday, so it’s only fitting that Mr. Bernbach authors this post with an excerpt from a speech he gave in 1961, the year Nancy began working with him, and a speech she said most represents his ideals.


Presented by William Bernbach at the 1961 Annual Meeting of the American Association of Advertising Agencies

There is a word in this advertising business of ours that over the last few years has been used (with increasing) looseness… only it isn’t so funny. I think I am so upset not because it is used inaccurately, but because it is used irresponsibly. The word is creativity. It has been worshipped blindly. It has been attacked. It has been maligned. It has been exploited by the unscrupulous. It has been deliberately misrepresented by the dishonest promoter. And, perhaps, most damaging of all, it has been misunderstood by good, honest, principled businessmen and women.

If we can come out of this meeting with a common definition of the word CREATIVITY as it relates to advertising, if we can all learn to mean exactly the same thing when we use the word, we shall not only do a great service to our profession but to ourselves as well. For properly practiced creativity must result in greater sales more economically achieved. Properly practiced creativity can make one ad do the work of ten. Properly practiced creativity can lift your claims out of the swamp of sameness and make them accepted, believed, persuasive, urgent. Is creativity some obscure, esoteric art form? Not on your life. It’s the most practical thing a businessman can employ.

Let’s begin with the beginning. You’ve got to have something to be creative about.

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For over 20 years, Bill Bernbach’s secretary and confidante Nancy Underwood kept a shoebox by her desk. In it were scraps of paper with thoughts Bill had jotted down, many on hotel notepads which he had brought back after a business trip. They were the thoughts that woke him up at night; the insights he needed to remember. After Bill’s death, many a DDBer came to Nancy hoping for one of Bill’s notes from that box and this precious collection was eventually turned into a little book of quotes called Bill Bernbach Said… Over the years, that book has been printed and reprinted, in Spanish to Korean, inspiring DDB employees and friends around the world.