A lot of people have learned advertising, but they haven’t learned the basics.

So when I do talks, I like to start with the basics.

I start with the campaign where GOOD advertising started: Volkswagen.

Bill Bernbach did this campaign about 60 years ago.

Consequently, no one is interested in studying it today, just the latest fashion.

But that’s why advertising is in the state it is, we’ve either forgotten, or never learned, the basics of what we’re doing and why.

So I start with the basics of creativity – how to turn a problem into an opportunity.

The problem for Volkswagen was that no one in America wanted a car like that.

They didn’t even consider it a proper car – just a small, ugly toy car.

Proper cars were from Detroit: huge and chrome and they changed style every year.

So Bernbach turned a problem into an opportunity.

Because the VW was small that meant it used less petrol, and because it was small it was cheaper to buy, and because it didn’t keep changing it never went out of fashion, and because it was basic and rugged it worked in the snow, where big flashy cars didn’t.

He turned big flashy cars into cars for fat-cats, he turned VW into cars for smart people who weren’t interested in showing off.

That campaign ran on posters, TV, and print for 30 years.

Did changing a problem into an opportunity work?

VW is now the biggest car brand in the world and those Detroit brands barely exist.

Bill Bernbach also had to sell Avis rental cars.

Hertz was far and away the biggest brand in rental cars, there were many smaller brands: Avis, Alamo, Dollar, Econ-O-Car, National.

So Avis were just one of Hertz’s many smaller competitors.

Again, Bernbach turned that problem into an opportunity.

He positioned Avis as a smaller brand, “We’re only number 2, so why go with us?”

He answered it with “We try harder, because we have to”.

He repositioned Hertz as fat-cats that take their customers for granted.

So the next time you have a bad experience at Hertz: lazy staff, long queues, wrong car, etc, come to Avis, we’ll appreciate you, you’re more important to us – We try harder.

That campaign ran for 10 years.

Did changing a problem into an opportunity work?

Avis and Hertz are now joint number one in the rental car market, the other small brands disappeared.

Bernbach was also asked to advertise Levy’s Rye Bread.

They had a tiny market and only advertised in The Jewish Chronicle, because the owner of Levy’s thought non-Jews wouldn’t be interested in buying rye bread.

So Bernbach turned a problem into an opportunity.

He ran posters on the New York subway saying: YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE JEWISH TO LOVE LEVY’S, with Irish, Italian, and Black New Yorkers enjoying rye-bread sandwiches.

Instead of hiding Levy’s Jewishness he made it a feature, and Levy’s rye became part of the multi-cultural New York experience.

Now, in any New York deli, when you order a sandwich you’ll automatically be asked “Do you want that on white, brown, or rye?”

Because we don’t teach the basics, we confuse creativity with just being weird.

Which is why ordinary people don’t understand most advertising today.

As Bob Levenson wrote : “Advertising doesn’t care about people, so people don’t care about advertising.”

But we can still find creativity in surprising places, I recently saw an ad for Nivea Sun Cream.

Nivea is mainly bought by women for themselves or their children, to protect them from the sun.

But I recently went into Jewson’s Builders Merchants, and at the entrance there’s an advert for Nivea on the door.


Nivea identified a whole area that never uses their brand – men.

So they turned a problem into an opportunity.

Creative changed the image from gentle and female and caring to tough and masculine.

Media put the ad in a place where men who work outdoors can’t miss it, the entrance to a builder’s merchant.

In short, they’ve identified a problem and turned it into an opportunity.

That’s what creativity is, that’s what we should be doing if we call ourselves creative.