We ran this ad (pictured, bottom), by the legendary DDB team of Bob Levenson and Len Sirowitz, on a right-hand page in Time on 3 October 1969. You could run the ad today and it would be as relevant – if not even more so – as it was then. You know why? Because at a time when everybody is chasing the newest trend, the newest technological leap and the newest buzzwords without making any real difference, it is plain to see that the last real innovation in our industry is more than 70 years old. The greatest achievement in the history of advertising is still the "creative revolution". That is not a bad thing. In fact, that is a great thing.
Real innovation in our industry doesn’t come from data, algorithms or technology. It comes from one simple, important fact: our only reason for existence is to find or create a relevant truth – and, to be honest, not only to the people we are talking to and want to sell something to, but to ourselves. Great ideas that change behaviour only happen when they are based on a relevant truth. Then they make an impact on societies and cultures, and add value to people’s lives.
The truth behind creativity
Relevant truth can only happen at the intersection of creativity, humanity and technology. Only there can we create what we are great at: magic. You cannot categorise it. You cannot put a label on it. You cannot create it with a code. You cannot move people if you are not moved yourself. You will not convince anybody if you are not convinced. And you will not have any influence if you have lost sight of the values that brought you to this business in the first place.
As long as there is a free market, there will be progress. As long as there is progress, you will see new ideas that make people’s lives easier, better and more efficient. And as long as that happens you will need someone to connect these ideas to people.
If we focus on what our only purpose is, we will be in a position again to create influence, to shape society and make an impact on culture
But as people get more connected and live a more advanced lifestyle, they will be more critical of bullshit. They will know more than ever, faster than ever. And that is a great thing because it will force us to be more critical of bullshit. As an industry, we have to stop falling into the trap of phoney ideas, of superficial gloss that only looks great in an awards jury room but does not matter at all in the real world.
If we focus on what our main and only purpose is, we will be in a position again to create influence, to shape society and make an impact on culture.
There are a number of great people in our industry who achieved amazing things. They are among our role models. They created game-changing ideas. But there is one person who stands out. Not because he invented the creative revolution or the greatest ad agency that ever existed, or because he created the best advertising of the past 100 years and revolutionised the creative structure and process.
William Bernbach stands out for only one reason: he was (and still is) teaching us the most important lesson in our business: you have the responsibility to search for and find the relevant truth. If it is not there, create it, but don’t try to fool other people or yourself. In his own words: "All of us who professionally use mass media are shapers of society. We can vulgarise that society. We can brutalise it. Or we can help lift it on to a higher level."
I believe that, not just because I work at DDB but because I work in advertising. So let’s stop talking about all the things that will change and remember what will never change.
Amir Kassaei is the chief creative officer of DDB Worldwide