This post was written by Luis Rodriguez, Collections Management Specialist.
In 1964 the advertising agency Doyle Dane Bernbach created a provocative and effective ad for Lyndon B. Johnson’s presidential campaign. It juxtaposed a young girl counting the petals on a daisy with the launch and detonation of a nuclear weapon, thus attacking the more hawkish foreign policy of Barry Goldwater. The ad only officially aired once, but its success in creating a cultural moment added to the reputation of the agency that was also responsible for producing innovative ads for companies including Volkswagen and Avis. Four years later, the Democratic nominee was Hubert Humphrey, and his campaign also contracted with Doyle Dane Bernbach. This time, however, the relationship between campaign and ad agency collapsed in the midst of what proved to be a losing effort for Humphrey.
In its September 27, 1968 issue, Time reported in its business section that Doyle Dane Bernbach produced a singularly bizarre ad for the campaign that resulted in the agency being fired only weeks before Election Day. The ad in question featured Humphrey’s face superimposed on a dart board, with darts striking his face as the then vice president’s achievements were methodically read aloud. This story outraged William Bernbach, creative director and co-founder of DDB, who wrote privately to Time Inc. president James A. Linen to complain. He called the story “pure fiction” and stated that: “Advertising had absolutely nothing to do with our parting.” Bernbach instead painted a picture of an advertising agency that was politically at odds with Humphrey as he mentions the protests at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago and perhaps obliquely refers to Humphrey’s stance on the Vietnam War. He claimed that the agency had in fact created a number of commercials that the campaign wanted to use, but that the falling out occurred because of the “disillusionment” his company felt with Humphrey. He did not, however, deny that the “dart board” ad was produced.
Linen did write back in defense of the story, pointing out that DDB was not willing to comment, and that the story did allude to “a generally deteriorating relationship all around.” It may not be all that surprising that Manhattan advertising creatives would have reservations about a presidential candidate, especially given the political climate of 1968. Beyond mere reservations, however, Bernbach’s letter illustrates how the genuine strife surrounding that presidential election effected even the prominent advertising agency that was being paid to promote the candidacy of Hubert Humphrey.