When I first got to New York in 1967, I was a little mod from London.
London was racially pretty much totally white, and everyone aspired to be middle class.
I got off the subway train in Manhattan and there was a poster of a little smiling black boy tucking into a huge sandwich, with the headline YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE JEWISH TO LOVE LEVYS: REAL JEWISH RYE.
I couldn’t believe you could run a poster like that.
You certainly couldn’t have run it in London.
A black child eating your product.
The word ‘JEWISH’ in the headline.
I went round the corner and there was a poster of a Chinaman eating a huge sandwich with the same headline.
Further on there was a poster of an Irish policeman eating a sandwich with the same headline.
Then a Red Indian eating a sandwich, and again the same headline.
I’d never seen advertising like this.
Instead of choosing only the best looking, most aspirational white models to grace the product, Bernbach had picked ethnic types.
He said (without saying it):
“We all know New York has the biggest Jewish population of any city in the US.
We all know New Yorkers won’t settle for anything but the best.
We all know New York is a helluva lot more exciting than whatever town you’re from.
Well New Yorkers think Levys is the best Rye bread you can get.”
Instead of pretending New York was whites only, he’s celebrated the fact that New York was more ethnically diverse than any other city in America, if not the world.
He’d turned the whole thing on its head.
Suddenly, thanks largely to Bernbach, cities all over the world wanted to be as cool as New York.
Everyone was desperately trying to find ethnic minorities to put in their ads.
Racial differences became something to be celebrated, not hidden.
Plain racially dominant white culture became dull and boring.
Racial differences became cool and interesting.
And largely because of Bill Bernbach.
Levys wasn’t the only campaign like this he did, just the first one I saw when I got off the plane.
For me, Bernbach did more for ethnic diversity than any patronising political speech.
That’s a little more important than just putting up the sales of a product don’t you think?