Bill Bernbach was the man who invented good advertising.

His agency, Doyle Dane Bernbach, was the most influential ad agency in the world.

Bernbach made Bob Levenson the Head of Copy at his agency.

Why did he choose him over anyone else?

Because Bernbach thought Levenson understood advertising better than anyone else.

Levenson wasn’t artsy-fartsy.

Of course, he thought advertising had to be great but it also had to be functional.

It wasn’t just decoration.

So how do you judge when an ad is great?

Everyone’s got different standards, a subjective opinion.

Levenson didn’t accept that.

He didn’t think advertising was subjective.

He had a very firm opinion about what made a great ad.

“Here’s the test,” said Bob Levenson: “If you look at an ad and fall in love with the brilliance of it, try taking the product out of it. 

If you still love the ad, it’s no good. 

Don’t make your ad interesting; make your product interesting.”

So there it is.

The purpose of advertising isn’t simply to amuse or entertain.

The purpose is to present a brand or product.

That’s what makes it an ad.

Now, with that in mind, go back and look at the ads that win awards, and you can see how skewed our values have got.

Beautifully shot, beautifully edited, beautifully cast, beautifully scripted, beautiful soundtrack, beautiful location.

Stunning pieces of film, the product hardly intrudes at all.

And that’s the problem Levenson’s talking about.

A stunning piece of film is not a great ad.

Not if you can take the product out and it’s still a stunning piece of film.

In that case all it does is sell itself, that’s all.

It should probably win a short-film award, but it’s not an ad.

We have fallen in love with the execution, and forgotten the reason for advertising in the first place.

All of us: creatives, planners, clients.

We find glamour in the film business, so that’s what we have fallen in love with.

No problem, as long as the film business serves the original intention of creating great ads.

And as Levenson says, that’s the test.

If you can take the product or brand away, and you still love it, it may be a great piece of film.

But it’s not an ad.

Simply, if it can exist without the product it isn’t an ad.

That’s not tough to understand.

A chair may be beautiful, but if you can’t sit on it, it isn’t a chair.

It’s a sculpture.

It’s beautiful, but it doesn’t do the job.

However beautiful a thing is, if it doesn’t do the job it was originally intended for, it isn’t that thing.

As Edward de Bono said “There are a lot of people calling themselves creative who are actually mere stylists.”

To tell the difference, give everyone’s work the Bob Levenson test.


That will separate the exercises in style off from the great ads.