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 BernbachThe 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 14 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:

One response to “Wise political campaigning advice from a Mad Men rival”

  1. The problem for the Lib Dems is the very first sentence “The truth isn’t the truth until people believe you.” The people did believe us, and then our leaders betrayed that trust. Hence if we develop interesting ideas people do what they always do with ideas from people they don’t believe – Oppose them, because it’s the messenger not the message (That’s what strong Labour types do); Ignore them, because that’s easier (That’s what most people do); or laugh at them because that’s what a comedian is – a humorous liar (that’s what the first two groups do when they get bored with their first choice.

    So increasingly the danger is only people our leading lights are left to talk to about our ever more ‘interesting’ policies is themselves and the faithful.

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