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Bill Bernbach: Facts Are Not Enough


Bill Bernbach Advertising Strategy

Should rational thought take precedent over instinct? In this speech to the 4A’s (the American Association of Advertising Agencies) 1980 Annual Meeting, advertising legend Bill Bernbach, outlines his personal philosophy on creative genius.

Let me read from a Wall Street Journal story of last year:

“A woman swallowed a pill. It contained only a little milk sugar, but she had been told it was a powerful drug. Within 10 minutes she was suffering severe reactions – first stomach pains, then diarrhea. Her lips swelled and her skin broke out.”

“After taking the same pills two other patients also displayed profound reactions. The experiment was a classic demonstration of the effect of a placebo.”

“The patient believes in it, so it works. From antiquity to this era of medical enlightenment the placebo has been the single most potent and versatile tool for relieving the sufferings that man is heir to,” says a report published last year in the Proceedings of the Mayo Clinic.

“Be it mother’s kiss or voodoo drums, leeches, purgatives, poultices or snake oil, the wondrous effect of placebo therapy is undeniably evident.”

“Placebos,” wrote Henry Byerly of the University of Arizona’s philosophy department, “can accomplish real cures of real diseases…real cures of imaginary diseases…imaginary cures of real diseases…imaginary cures of imaginary diseases.”

Placebo effect isn’t limited to drugs. Lancet, a British medical journal, reported on the fad of using magnetized bracelets to treat cuts and abrasions. Eight volunteers given bracelets that weren’t magnetized (but not told of non-magnetism) showed just as much insensitivity to heat pain on the back of the hand as eight other volunteers with magnetized bracelets.

And, whether you like it or not, that’s the way the human mind works.

A physical fact can be the result, not the cause, of an emotional attitude. And the effective shaping of an emotional attitude, most often, depends on the talent, the artfulness, of the shaper. He rouses your emotions. Emotions make you feel And only feeling leads to action. Nothing works in the making of a sale like a consumer in a receptive attitude. The attitude of the receiver of a message and not the facts in the message is the driving force. A villain can say that 1+1=2 and no one will believe him. Does anyone believe an oil company no matter how right it may be?

Advertising, science or art, indeed. Where is the dividing line between them? How can you separate them? Even science, perhaps especially science, becomes an art at the very top. When you enter that magic sphere of greatness, in any field, art takes over. The deftness of a surgeon’s hand, the quickness of his eye; how do you quantify that? His unexplainable, unchartable skills, these are what ultimately lead him to greatness – and they are beyond knowledge.

And there are so many other unlikely factors that play a decisive role in science. What has aesthetics got to do with science? In his book, “The Double Helix,” James Watson, who together with Francis Crick, discovered the structure of D.N.A., probably the most important scientific discovery of this century for which they were awarded the Nobel Prize, tells this story of the day on which the final structure was hit upon.

Hundreds of models had been made over the 2 years they worked together. So far there was a flaw in each of them. None of them proved out. On this day another idea led to the form of a Double Helix structure and the model of such a structure was built. The scientists felt an excitement building in them. As they gazed at the finished structure James Watson said, “This is too pretty not to be it,” And Francis Crick agreed. And indeed, it was it. All the scientific Lests that followed gave evidence that this pretty structure had revealed to man one of the great secrets of life.

One of the most gifted scientists I know, Dr. Jerry Edelman of Rockefeller University, who became a Nobel Laureate in his early thirties, told me that he is convinced that the instrument of discover in science is not mathematics; it is taste. And what he meant was that there is an order to everything in life – an order to the universe, an order in our bodies, an order in the structure of all things. And what is taste but an intuitive sensing of that order which takes the innovative scientist beyond his knowledge to a new truth, a new frontier.

That is why the breakthrough scientist is essentially a poet with an insight into what must be and the imagination to reach that new frontier with a theory, an idea.

Instincts And Reason

Whatever little tendency toward reasonableness I have was first tapped by a history professor. I shall never forget him for his wisdom. Of the many things I learned from him the most memorable was a remark that stopped in its tracks my young, mindless intellectual arrogance. I am sure I haven’t completely conquered that arrogance. Hopefully it is no longer mindless.

What he said was: “There are 3 sides to every question: your side, my side, and the truth.”

What he was really saying is that no man can be really objective in the position he takes on anything. All sorts of things are involved in the taking of that position. All the forces that played upon and shaped his personality: his background, his experiences, his environment and the very genes his parents mixed to create him. And the most powerful influence of all were those dominating instincts that are almost automatically triggered to insure his survival. I guess God or Nature or whoever made the grand plan implanted those instincts in us so that the species wouldn’t be wiped out, so that it would survive. We want, more than anything else, to stay alive.

“Scientific thinking,” said Szent-Gyorgyi, the great biochemist, “means that if we are faced with a problem, we approach it without preconceived ideas and sentiments like fear, greed and hatred. We approach it with a cool head and collect data which we eventually try to fit together. This is all there is to it. It may sound simple and easy. What makes it difficult is the fact that our brain is not made to search for truth; it is but another organ of survival, like fangs, or claws. So the brain does not search for truth, but for advantage, and it tries to make us accept as truth what is only self-interest allowing our thoughts to be dominated by our desires.”

The intellect, it seems, is just a tool at the service of our interests and instincts. It isn’t our brain, is it, that makes us desperately desire a certain girl. But it is the brain that devises all the tricks that will trap her.

Yes, your brain, your intellect, works for your genes and instincts and never was there a more ruthless boss. Certainly one thing is clear. The basic instincts dominate. That great salesman, Aristotle, in his classic book. “Rhetoric,” stated it simply. He said that a speaker who is attempting to move people to thought or action must concern himself with pathos, e.g. their emotions. If he touches only their minds, he is unlikely to move them to action or to change of mind, the motivations of which lie deep in the realm of the passions.

A communicator must be aware of this…or he will fail. Facts are not enough.

That is why at the heart of an effective creative philosophy is the belief that nothing is so powerful as an insight into human nature, what compulsions drive a man, what instincts dominate his action, even though his language so often camouflages what really motivates him. For if you know these things about man you can touch him at the core of his being. I remember Gene McCarthy going up into New Hampshire, in that famous primary. And as you know, he had this army of devoted young followers. They immediately went to work, rang the bells at the homes up there, and cheerfully said: Senator McCarthy; as you know, he’s running in the primary, and as you know, he’s against the Vietnam War and the doors closed on them. Well, obviously something was wrong, and a folder was got out which pointed out that the Vietnam War would cost more in one day than all of New Hampshire’s taxes for a year. The next morning everybody was a pacifist. And the doors stayed open. (Nothing works like a romantic cloak on a selfish motive.)

I came across a prayer in a wonderful book by the eminent poet W. H. Auden called, “A Certain World” in which he collected the pieces that he most enjoyed reading in his life. He felt that such a book would convey the kind of man he was far more accurately than his autobiography could. For no man, he too understood, could be completely objective about himself. The book was divided into different subjects, and in the section on “prayers” there was this one by St. Augustine: “Dear Lord, make me chaste and continent…but not just yet.”

I can’t think of a more vivid example of the uphill, if not impossible, battle that reason and logic have In the final conduct of a man. Many years ago I heard Ted Kennedy on TV; he was out in San Francisco helping one of his colleagues. This is a favorite story of mine, a true one. He was on the platform at a labor gathering. And in the middle of his speech, one man bellowed out from the audience, “What are you talking to us about labor for. You never worked a day in your life.” And being the pro he was, he continued, seemingly unperturbed. After that speech, he traveled across the country to Scranton, Pennsylvania, a mining town, as you know. Here he was helping another colleague. And he said his piece. As he came down from the podium, he felt a tugging at his sleeve, and there was this very sad looking little pale man, a miner, with worn out pale blue eyes, very, very pale face, with coal dust in the creases of his face, and he looked up at the Senator, and he said: “I heard you on television the other day, out in San Francisco, and I heard that man say to you that you ain’t worked a day in your life. I just want you to know, you ain’t missed a thing.”

Science Is Not The Answer

Our problem as communicators is: How do you satisfy all people? How do you reconcile the tremendous diversity of opinion in our world? How do you communicate with people whose environments conditioned them to believe, sometimes violently, in opposite philosophies.

One thing is certain. Science is not the answer.

I repeat. A communicator must be aware of this or he will fail. Facts … are … not … enough.

I spoke to this point at a Yankelovich Monitor Conference in New York. The theme of the meeting was the changing society, and the implication was that to be effective you must keep up with all societal change, with all sociological knowledge. To give me the background for my talk Dan Yankelovich sent me the transcript of the proceedings of the previous Monitor Conference which was on the environment. Daniel Bell, the eminent Harvard sociologist, delivered the major address. I know Mr. Bell and there is no one in his field I respect more. In talking of social change he said: “Any assessment of social change has to take into account four factors:

  1. Structural changes in a society, such as the movement from an agrarian society to an industrial society.
  2. The changing composition of social groups.
  3. The changing values in a society (as we are witnessing today).
  4. Simple elements of contingency or accident.”

And then Mr.. Bell went on to say that of the four the last, the unforecastable accidents, may be the most Important. For it may throw everything else into a cocked hat. And that is the communicators’ dilemma. For the trouble with coming to a purely logical and intellectual decision is that you have to know everything. And who knows everything? Who is all-knowing and all-seeing?

How are you going to forecast the unpredictable’? How are you going to make a science out of the illogical human emotions’? Rigid rules destroy the creativity so vital to the formation of new ideas to meet new problems. You know that old story about one of the clubs in New York, one which never allowed women in. Well, finally they were going to have a social affair to which the husbands were allowed to bring their wives. Before the affair took place, one of the men went up to the head man there, and he said, “You know, we have a problem, maybe you can help us. Mr. So and So wants to bring his mistress.” And the man said, “he can’t, unless she’s the wife of another member.”

Rules are prisons.

After Mr. Bell’s talk he opened the floor to questions from the audience. The question was asked, “What single person has had the greatest impact on social change in the last ten years?” Now that’s a fascinating question to us as communicators because that person would also be the best communicator. And Mr. Bell’s answer was: “I can give you one simple illustration in the example of pollution. And it’s quite striking. If you take a look, for example, at the environment issue it’s very clear where the single source of this came from.”

It came from one book. It came from Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. It’s a book which had an extraordinary emotional impact.” And then he goes on to say, “Its lyricism about the soil, its lyricism about the sea, its lyricism about the beaches and the oceans struck a chord that people began responding to. You had organizations like the Sierra Club and others which were able to take it up. You had people like Udall in the Kennedy administration who were very committed to this. So it’s quite clear that someone like Rachel Carson had an extraordinary impact in initiating social change.”

And there we have the heart of communications.

It wasn’t so much the facts that Rachel Carson was saying. They were known. It was the lyricism with which she related the facts which led to an extraordinary emotional impact, which opened the ears and eyes and hearts of the people, which, in other words, communicated.

The fact is that after the sociologists have forecast accurately the structural changes in our society, the changing composition of social groups, the changing values, and even the almost unforecastable accidents, you still are nowhere as far as communications is concerned until you breathe life into those facts with an awareness of the unchanging fundamentals of human nature, our unchanging instincts and motivations, and our unchanging compulsive drives. Until you wrap all these facts in a talented expression to which people respond, until you cloak those facts in the artistry which makes people feel, you are not going to communicate. There may be changes in our society. But learning about those changes is not the answer. For you are not appealing to society. You are appealing to individuals, each with his own ego, each with the dignity of his own being, each like no one else in the world, each a separate miracle. The societal appeals are merely fashionable, current, cultural appeals which make nice garments for the real motivations that stem from the unchanging instincts and emotions of people – from nature’s indomitable programming in their genes. It is unchanging that is the proper study of the communicator.

Yes, it is insight into human nature that is the key to a communicator’s skill. For, whereas, the writer is concerned with what he puts into his writing, the communicator is concerned not just with what he puts into a piece of writing but with what the reader gets out of it. He therefore becomes a student of how people read or listen.

He learns that most readers come away from their reading not with a clear, precise, detailed registration of its contents on their minds, but rather with a vague, misty idea which was formed as much by the pace, the proportions, the music of the writings as by the literal words themselves.

He learns that the reader reads with his ego, his emotions, with his prejudices, his urges and his aspirations. And that he plots with his brains to rationalize the facts until they become the tools of his desires.

We saw this when the Surgeon General’s report came out. I remember reading that report. And I don’t see how anybody who read it objectively could ever smoke again. But what happened. Did cigarette sales go down? They went up. And I think I know why they went up. They went up because the subject of smoking was brought to the consciousness of America like never before. There were articles on it. There were programs on it, wherever you turned. People were talking about smoking, and without intellectualizing, it was in their minds, and they smoked more.

Obstacles To Persuasion

And there you have the beginning of my side of the story. Facts and knowledge are not enough to persuade. As a matter of fact they are often obstacles to persuasion.

This is difficult at times for the man of business to grasp fully. He deals in tangibles. He is concerned with the arithmetic of trade. He is an expert in numbers. After all, isn’t his balance sheet in numbers? Isn’t his profit in numbers? Isn’t it the realities of life that he must never lose sight of!

Well, let’s look at some of those realities and see how unreal they can be.

In his autobiography, the great art critic Kenneth Clark, tells of an incident in his early childhood. His father, a very wealthy man, had invited a few important people to breakfast aboard his yacht. Young Kenneth was permitted to sit with them. A message had reached them telling of the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand. Mr. Clark asked, “Does this mean war with Germany?” Lord Cunliffe, a man of finance. responded without hesitation. “Never,” he said, “The Germans simply don’t have the credits.”

Kenneth Clark was unforgettably impressed with this instant analysis. He then takes us to 1939 to the Beefsteak Club where now, a mature accomplished man, he is dining with the three leading financial men in London who headed the prestigious firms of Hambros, Lazards and Bensons. The conversation soon turned to Adolph Hitler’s political and military aggressiveness. The question arose, “Will this lead to war with Germany?” and Lord Clark relates that the most eminent or the three financial men quickly said, “It’s not on old chaps, Germany simply doesn’t have the credits.” They all agreed. This time, Clark writes I was not so impressed, Indeed I was frightened to think that our finances were in the hands of people suffering so seriously from professional deformation.

Which was the reality here, the financial facts and figures that Lord Cunliffe knew so well? Or the seemingly intangible power of an emotional drive and a persuasiveness that overcame all logic for Mr. Hitler.

What was the reality that took Einstein to his breakthrough theory of relativity? Was it a greater command of mathematics than his colleagues had? It was not. When Dr. Einstein taught at the famous Gouingen University he was not considered a top mathematician. As a matter of fact he was the butt of unkind remarks about his ability by the superior students. This prompted Dr. Hilbert, the head of the department at the school and perhaps the most respected mathematician in Europe, to call the undergraduates together and say, “Every boy in the streets of our mathematical Gottingen understands more about four dimensional geometry than Einstein.” Vet despite that Einstein did the work and not the mathematicians. Hilbert asked, “Do you know why Einstein said the most original and profound things about space and time that have been said in our generation? Because he had learned nothing about all the philosophy and mathematics of time and space,” What he was saying is that we can get caught in the web of our sophisticated knowledge and methodology and not see the simple truths that lie around us.

Einstein himself said: “The supreme task of the physicist is to arrive at those universal elementary laws from which the cosmos can be built up by pure deduction. There is no logical path to these laws; only intuition resting on experience, can reach them.”

And in a conversation with Janos Plesch, a doctor friend, about the creative similarities between writing fiction and working in mathematics, Einstein said: “When I examine myself and my methods of thought, J come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than my talent for absorbing positive knowledge.”

The Poet

Yes, even among the scientists, men who are regarded as worshippers of facts, the real giants have always been poets, men who jumped from facts into the realm of imagination and ideas. That is why Einstein’s great achievement was called the theory of relativity. It was an idea arrived at through his experience played upon by a sensitive imagination and intuition. It was nor provable at the time of its conception. It was beyond the facts.

Lest you think Einstein is an isolated example, an exception, the evidence in the history of science is that he is the rule rather than the exception. In an essay on Issac Newton, the great discoverer of gravity. John Maynard Keynes says of him: “He was a supreme mathematician, but it was his intuition which was preeminently extraordinary—so happy in his conjectures as to know more than he could possibly have any means of proving. The proofs, for what they are worth, were dressed up afterwards—they were not the instrument of discovery.” And the same is true of Bertrand Russell, one of the most eminent mathematicians of the century. He said, “The way I work is to get a feeling that something is so. I then go back and try to work out the mathematics to prove it.” And he said, if the mathematics don’t work out, I don’t throw the idea out, I throw the mathematics out. and start again.

What is the reality in getting people to look at your advertising? (Outside of the basic reality that you had better do that, or nothing else will count.) But how do you do it? 00 you find out what to say and say it? Suppose my research tells me that what a woman wants most in a hair coloring is not to have her hair look artifically colored. She wants it to look natural. But suppose all the competition did the same research and came up with the same fact, and all the hair coloring ads said you will look natural with our hair coloring. What happens then? What happens is that no one makes any impression because you’re just one of the crowd and no one stands out. However true and real your fact is, it is simply not enough. In the case of Clairol’s Nice ‘n Easy a simple change was made. Not a factual change, a change in language that no one else was using, a change that gave Nice ‘n Easy a character of its own and therefore made it stand out. Instead of just saying, “You Will Look Natural” the ad had a young girl saying, “It Lets Me Be Me.” This was no change in concept or content. It just said, “You will look natural” in a fresh, new way. It said to young readers, “What you are is pretty wonderful and we are going to make the most of it for you.” With just that seemingly intangible change, with everything else remaining the same, no change in product, no change in price, no change in distribution, there followed seven years of every succeeding Nielsen larger than the one before until Nice ‘n Easy, already the biggest selling hair coloring in the business, doubled its sales.

The irony is that some of the most gossamer things, the most indefinable, things so delicate that they are dissipated by analyzation, turn out to be the things that create those beautiful, tangible, big numbers in your profit statement. Is a picture of a man crying just a picture of a man crying? Well it can be. Or it can be put down in such a way as to make the viewer cry. And that ungraspable talent is the ultimate reality that touches and moves people and makes things happen.

Bert Lahr apparently was a terrible hypochondriac, and imagined he had every disease known to man. His doctor was getting very, very tired of him. One day, he called the doctor and said, “Doctor Siegel, I have nephritis.” And the doctor said, “Look Bert, I’m getting sick of you. Now I have you. Nephritis is one disease that has no symptoms and no pain.” And Bert replied, “That’s it Doctor, I feel great”

We’re over analyzing things.

I have a great respect for tested advertising. And that is why I nominated John Caples, the most famous name in tested advertising, for the Hall of Fame. But in the end it was his creative ability that fashioned his most effective ad. Take his most famous headline. John Caples wrote:

“They laughed when I sat down at the piano, but when I started to play!”

What if this thought had been written in different language? Would it have been as effective? What if it had said, “They admired my piano playing,” which also plays to the instinct of being admired. Would that have been enough? Or was it the talented, imaginative expression of that thought that did the job? That wonderful feeling of revenge.

As one agency house ad said: Suppose Winston Churchill had said, “We owe a lot to the R.A. F.” instead of “Never did so many owe so much to so few.” Do you think the impact would have been the same?

Suppose David Ogilvy had said in his Rolls Royce ad: “The quietest car in the world” instead of: “At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise you hear in this new Rolls Royce comes from the electric clock.” Would that have been the same? Would you even have believed it?

Suppose the Volkswagen ad, positioned to tell its inspection story, had said: “The greatest inspection system in the world” instead of the single, shocking word: “LEMON.” Do you think anyone would have noticed it? Perhaps after we had said it a hundred times, you would have got the idea that we meant it. But in one stroke, we drew attention to the fact that this was a great inspection system. I was there when this happened in Wolfsburg, Germany, and I saw the inspector look at this car through a magnifying glass and send it back because he saw a scratch that you couldn’t see with the naked eye. But how do you get people to put the word lemon in their ad? How can you talk this way about their child? You know, you listen to a father talk about his daughter, and he says she’s the most beautiful, the most talented, and the most intelligent girl in the world, and you laugh and let it go by. There are so many of us doing that with our products. But people don’t believe us.

For a speaker on advertising not to express the importance of creativity in getting attention to an ad and making the product advantage memorable is almost criminal negligence. Everyone gets hurt: the creative man, the agency and the client.

The practical damage that insensitivity to the subtle nuances of language does, is incalculable. And an agency or a client who smothers that sensitivity in their creative people is perhaps dulling their sharpest tool.

Remember the young man who on the night before his marriage could not contain his ardor and composed a telegram to his bride-to-be? The lady at the office told him he had nine words and he was entitled to ten. He added a word and returned it to her. It now passionately read, “I LOVE YOU. I LOVE YOU. I LOVE YOU.…REGARDS.” Sometimes it’s better not to put everything into an ad you want to put in.

Great Execution Becomes Great Content

It has always been the fashion to say that content, what you say, is more important than execution, how you say it. But how do you separate those two? Why must there be a choice? Great execution becomes content. And it brings what you have to say to the eyes and ears of your audience believably, persuasively. For the sake of your own sales don’t underestimate how you say what you want to say. Shakespeare got his plots from the penny history books of his period. But how he expressed those plots brought them to everlasting life.

Finding out what to say is the beginning of the advertising process. How you say it makes people look and listen and if you are not successful at that you have wasted all the work and Inteillgence and skill that went into discovering what you should say.

Yes there are limitations to knowledge, especially in the field of communications. The very fact that it is knowledge means it is the past. We already know about it or it wouldn’t be knowledge. And when we are trying to attract the attention of people, nothing fails like something they already know about. And nothing succeeds like something new and fresh and exciting that they have never seen before. Nothing succeeds like a great idea memorably executed. There is a saying in the aviation industry that goes: “If it’s flying it’s obsolete.” You’ve got to keep working on something new all the time.

There is a tendency in business to feel that we have the answer to the problem when we have researched it and found out what to say. The fact is that after you have produced the best product, packaged it brilliantly, priced it right, distributed it magnificently and positioned it to best meet the needs of the consumer, you will have sinfully wasted all these great marketing skills if nobody knows you have done. these things. And what makes people know that you have done these things is the most important and difficult problem confronting you today. For this is communications, which is not a science but a subtle, ever-changing art, defying formularization, flowering on freshness and withering on imitation; where what was effective one day, for that very reason will be ineffective the next.

In communications familiarity breeds apathy. Even a truth must be told in a new. fresh, artful form or it will bore the beholder. It is sad, that this is so. But it is. A dull truth will not be looked at. An exciting he will. That is what good, sincere people must understand. They must make their truth exciting and new, or their good works will be born dead. They must find new symbols, even though in time these symbols will also grow old and die. The most freshly sculptured phrase Will eventually become a cliche.

Joyce Cary said it clearly: “The prayers said every day tend to become a meaningless gabble, and the cathedral seen often tends to become a mere building. So churches invent new prayers to carry the old energy and architects invented Rheims to succeed Notre Dame.”

But while knowledge has its limitations, there is something With even greater limitations; and that is ignorance. That. is to be avoided at all costs for acting out of ignorance can lead to disaster.

Let me state flatly that a great talent, sailing in the wrong direction will, like the lost pilot breaking the speed record, reach the wrong destination more quickly. A creative man can’t jump from nothing to a great idea. He needs a springboard of information. We are grateful to all the greatly skilled marketing men who provide that springboard, as indeed they provide the opportunity to exercise our talent. Without you and your product we would be out of business. And you provide the questioning which keeps us from deluding ourselves. Everyman is flawed and therefore everyman needs a check on him. You provide that check on us.

But let us not forget that never in the history of advertising has the seemingly intangible quality of creativity been as important as it is today. With our industry being watched so carefully by governmental agencies, with out-to-get-the-vote candidates recognizing in us a beautiful target for their ambitions, with the F.TC. ready to pounce on every claim we make,what we can say in our ads is forever narrowing and the sharpest tool left for us is how we say it.

Forget words like “hard sell” and “soft sell.” That will only confuse you. Just be sure your advertising is saying something with substance, something that will serve and inform the consumer, and be sure you’re saying it like its never been said before. Your impact, which is another way of saying how much you get for your advertising dollar, will be in direct proportion to the originality of your presentation. A unique selling proposition is no longer enough. Without a unique selling talent, it may die.

Communicating With The Public

I have something special I want to say to you today. You are the great communicators of our country. And I think the world sorely needs you.

Recently I attended a small luncheon for a prominent ambassador to the U.N. In a private talk to us he tried to calm our fears over the mounting confrontation between the Third World countries and the Western nations. “I am in touch with these Third World ambassadors almost everyday,” he said, “and we really get along well. You know they really like us. They tell me they respect our way of doing things, that they can count on our word, that they admire our traditions and that we are more honorable in our dealings than the iron curtain countries. We really are blowing this whole thing up,” he continued, “our of all proper proportion. They really don’t mean what they say on the floor of the U.N. They say they do that merely for political reasons.”

What a tragic lack of understanding of the communications process. The public doesn’t know what goes on behind the scenes. They know only what they hear and see. What happens on the floor of the U.N. is what they are exposed to, and what they are exposed to is what shapes their thoughts. This exposure is then abetted by the press dramatizing the conflict. And that’s how a polarized public opinion is created. Once sufficient heat is generated by the rubbing together of both sides of that public opinion an event is born and an event has a life of its own that goes its own inexorable, destructive way heedless of and perhaps laughing at those seminal behind the scene statesmen as they look on stunned and say: “But that’s not what I had in mind.”

I have seen too many good causes fail for want of expertness in communicating with the public … and too many evil ones succeed for having it; for morality doesn’t come with that expertness. That comes only with the man. There is absolutely no relationship between the worthiness of an enterprise and the communications skill expended in its behalf. Men of goodwill are not necessarily good communicators. And that can be a tragedy.

You can he the answer to that. You have the ski1l, the talent and the knowledge to reach people and to touch their minds and hearts. I urge you to jump into the fray. You have a great contribution to make to the welfare of mankind. The time has come for you to move up from below the salt into the important company of those working to make the world habitable.

All of us who professionally use the mass media are the shapers of society. We can vulgarize that society. We can brutalize it. Or we can help lift it onto a higher level. This perhaps is the appropriate occasion for me and for you to resolve to do all we can to practice the skills we have worked so hard and for so many years to develop, in behalf of causes that are in desperate need of being talked about in clear, believable, penetrating and persuasive words.

I leave you with my favorite quotes from two great pianists. The first is from Artur Rubinstein in a Times article which said:

“Today’s new style is represented by the young spit and polish pianists, who never hit a wrong note, who come to music with the utmost dedication, and who all tend to sound alike. Rubinstein does not like this kind of junior executive, gray-flannel playing so common today.

‘On stage,’ he says, ‘I will take a chance. There has to be an element of daring in great music-making. These younger ones, they are too cautious. They take the music out of their pockets instead of their hearts.’”

The second is from that great philosopher and pianist Thelonious Monk:

“The only cats worth anything are the cats who take chances. Sometimes I play things I never heard myself.”

~ Bill Bernbach

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1 Comment

Janine Mayhew on May 27th, 2011 said

“he is convinced that the instrument of discovery in science is not mathematics; it is taste. And what he meant was that there is an order to everything in life – an order to the universe, an order in our bodies, an order in the structure of all things.”

This is a remarkable observation, thanks for sharing this speech from BB.

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