Wise political campaigning advice from a Mad Men rival

Bill Bernbach was one of the pioneering American ad men of the mid-twentieth century, now best remembered as a frequently referred to rival in the TV series Mad Men.

One of his most famous campaigns turned conventional wisdom on its head and made a virtue of the client not being the most successful in the market:

Avis number 2 advert

On then to his views about messaging in general.

The following words of wisdom in particular have not only aged well but are very applicable to political campaigning too:

Bill Bernbach

The truth isn’t the truth until people believe you, and they can’t believe you if they don’t know what you’re saying, and they can’t know what you’re saying if they don’t listen to you, and they won’t listen to you if you’re not interesting, and you won’t be interesting unless you say things imaginatively, originally, freshly.

That’s an important extension to the Mary Matalin quote which Ed Maxfield and I used for Chapter 18 of 101 Ways To Win An Election:

The absolute rule of message dissemination and message penetration is consistency and repetition.

Good campaigners apply the lessons of both quotes.

Thanks to Howard Gossage biographer Steve Harrison for alerting me to the Bill Bernbach quote. This post is also an excuse to enjoy this scene again:

Find out more about effective political messaging in the heavily updated new third edition of 101 Ways To Win An Election.

3 responses to “Wise political campaigning advice from a Mad Men rival”

  1. Think that Mad Men scene has more to do with Australia negotiating the post-Brexit trade deal with the UK.

  2. Bill and his famous Avis campaign [plus the VW campaign which is equally iconic] also made clear that the message needed to be consistent but the execution needed to change to create new interest and intrigue. Note both campaigns used ambiguity to attract. Something the C&A campaign also did really well.

  3. This is probably the most important post of the year. If we are to get political power we must, as a party, give potential voters a clear, consistent and compelling message.

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