Bill Bernbach and Ned Doyle worked together at Grey Advertising in New York, where Bernbach was Creative Director. In 1949, they teamed up with Mac Dane, who was running a tiny agency, and together they started Doyle Dane Bernbach in Manhattan. Dane ran the administrative and promotional aspects of the business; Doyle had a client focus and Bernbach played an integral role in the writing of advertising, serving as the creative engine of the agency.
The agency's first ads were for Ohrbach's department store and they typified the new "soft-sell" approach using catchy slogans and witty humour in contrast to the repetition and hard-sell advertising that was in vogue until then. The new agency was initially successful in winning business for clients with small budgets. As of 2013, DDB has had the Volkswagen account since 1959. Their campaigns for Volkswagen throughout the 1950s and 1960s were said to have revolutionized advertising. Notable campaigns included the 1959 Think Small series of Volkswagen advertisements, which was voted the No. 1 campaign of all time in Advertising Age’s 1999 The Century of Advertising. In 1960, the agency won the account of Avis, then the number-two auto rental company. The tongue-in-cheek approach, "We Try Harder Because We're Number 2," was a major success (and remains part of the company's slogan today: "We Try Harder"). The DDB "Daisy" ad is considered a significant factor in Lyndon B. Johnson's defeat of Barry Goldwater in the 1964 presidential election and landed Mac Dane on the infamous Nixon's Enemies List. 1972's Little Mikey commercial for Quaker Oats ran continuously in the U.S for twelve years.
A branch office was opened in Los Angeles in 1954. In 1961, DDB opened its first international office in West Germany to service Volkswagen. Significant growth came in the mid-sixties after the firm signed Mobil Oil and the available budgets grew materially. Offices in London and other European locations were opened. Bernbach was appointed Chairman and Chief Executive Officer in 1968 when the agency was publicly listed; he became Chairman of the Executive Committee in 1976.
The impact of Doyle Dane Bernbach's creativity on advertising around the world, and the history of management crises that led to merger in 1986, are detailed in the book Nobody's Perfect: Bill Bernbach and the Golden Age of Advertising. Written by journalist Doris Willens, who served as DDB's Director of Public Relations for 18 years, the book is based on oral histories and interviews with the three founders, the line of the agency's presidents, and key creative and account people. By 1986, four years after Bernbach's death, the agency group had worldwide billings of USD $1.67B, 54 offices in 19 countries, and 3,400 employees, but showed profits declining 30% on the prior year.
Needham Harper Worldwide started in Chicago in 1925 as Maurice H. Needham Co. with two clients and billings totaling $270,000. By 1934 it was named Needham, Louis and Brorby, Inc., with billings of USD $1 million, had signed the Kraft Foods account and had opened a Hollywood office to service its clients' network radio program production needs.
In 1951, the agency opened a New York office to concentrate on the rapidly expanding television industry. That office merged with Doherty, Clifford, Steers and Shenfield in 1965 and changed its name to Needham, Harper & Steers. The Chicago office grew with accounts such as the Morton Company, Household Finance Corporation, General Mills and Frigidaire. The firm won the Oklahoma gasoline account (later Esso, today ExxonMobil) after research indicated that American drivers wanted both power and play, and copywriter Sandy Sulcer, working with psychologist Ernest Dichter, chose the tiger to symbolize that desire, which led to the campaign Put a Tiger in Your Tank. In 1966, the agency opened a Los Angeles office to handle the Continental Airlines business. An office was opened in Washington D.C. in 1971 initially to service some local McDonald's business. Soon, this agency was winning government and media business and an "Issues and Images" division was opened to service corporate public relations. This business would eventually become Biederman & Company. The agency worked on public service campaigns called Buckle Up for Safety as well as a traffic safety campaign entitled Watch Out For The Other Guy for the Advertising Council.
Keith L. Reinhard came from Chicago to head the worldwide firm in 1982 and, by 1986, there were thirty two offices outside the US; American offices in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington, Boston, Phoenix, Sacramento, San Diego, Baltimore and Dayton, Ohio; and diversification in Porter Novelli, Biederman & Company and the international direct-response agency DR Group, Inc.
Concerned by the swathe of hostile public company takeovers in the US the 1980s Reinhard started discussions with BBDO president Allen Rosenshine about a merger and included the then fragile Doyle Dane Bernbach business in the discussions. In 1986, the three networks agreed to merge into the Omnicom Group which would act as a holding company becoming at that time the world's largest global advertising agency group. BBDO remained separate and retained its network. Needham Harper had a good presence in midwest USA and was complemented by Doyle Dane Bernbach's strength in New York and Europe. Reinhard became Chairman and CEO of the merged DDB Needham Worldwide. The merged group suffered some initial account losses due to conflicts (DDB's Volkswagen was retained and Needham's Honda account lost while DDB's RJR Nabisco was lost in favour of Needham's General Mills) and some senior staff losses as Reinhard set about combining the two disparate cultures, but, by 1988, the firm was having success in winning significant new business and has continued to grow since then. Juan Carlos Ortíz became the Creative Chairman of DDB Americas in 2014.
In 1998 (having by then dropped the Needham from its name), DDB Worldwide was named Advertising Age's first-ever "Global Network of the Year". In 2003, it earned that same accolade from both Advertising Age and Adweek. Under the leadership of Ken Kaess, Bob Scarpelli, and Lee Garfinkel, it won the honor again from Adweek in 2004. Subsequently, its operating unit Tribal DDB became the first digital agency to be named Global Network of the Year by Advertising Age. As of 2011, DDB Worldwide has more than 200 offices in 95 countries. Its worldwide CEO since 2006 is Kentuckian, Charles E. Brymer, author of The Nature of Marketing, Marketing to the Herd as well as the Swarm.
At Omnicom's 1986 foundation, the merging Needham and Doyle Dane Bernbach operation each had London offices with the latter having been established in 1963. Reinhard made six trips to London, fired most of the Needham managers, and put DDB managers in charge. By 1989, the operation was struggling and Omnicom acquired Boase Massimi Pollitt to consume the DDB operation and renamed it as BMP DDB. It operated under that name until January 2004 when it was changed to DDB London, in line with the network's decision to rebrand all agencies it had acquired. The agency struggled during 2006 with management problems and a string of account defections. Stability was restored in 2007, its creative output remained strong, but the agency seemed unable to restore its lost billings. It continued to tumble down the UK agency rankings, ending up outside the Top 20 for 2010. In 2012, Adam & Eve DDB was created from the merger of DDB London with the fast-expanding independent Adam & Eve. By 2016 Adam & Eve DDB was one of the networks best performing offices worldwide.
In Australia in 2014, DDB operates from Sydney and Melbourne with both offices tracing their history to the post-war foundation of United Services Publicity, a Melbourne agency started in 1945 by ex-servicemen rebuilding careers. Founder John F. Barnes and some other staff had worked antebellum at the large Melbourne agency Samson Clark Price-Berry, a subsidiary of English agency Samson Clark which had closed its Australian arm during World War II. United Services Publicity grew in Melbourne and in 1961 established international links selling 25% of its equity to the British SH Benson group, becoming USP Benson and opening a Sydney office. The US group Needham, Harper & Steers bought into USP Benson in 1967 and when SH Benson, UK was bought out by Ogilvy & Mather in 1971, NH&S acquired Benson's interest in the Australian operation and effecting a name change to USP Needham in 1972. The 1986 creation of the Omnicom holding company saw a worldwide merger of Needham and the Doyle Dane Bernbach operations (in Australia a union of USP Needham and the DDB office "Magnus Nankervis & Curl/DDB") with the operation becoming known as DDB Needham in 1986, and later DDB Worldwide from 1998.
Australian agencies acquired by at some point by USP Needham or Doyle Dane Bernbach and which can trace their lineage to today's DDB Group Australia operation include: the Sydney agencies SPASM; Bartlett, Murphy and McKenzie; Harriman and Hill; Beeby Advertising; Magnus, Nankervis & Curl and the Melbourne agencies Berry Currie; Hyde Everett Fuller Kutt; Leonardi & Curtis; Walker Herbert & Associates; Nowland, Robinson & Perret; Kuczynski & Zeigler; Whybin Dery Barnes; Lifelounge.
DDB Stockholm is one of the largest agencies in Sweden with clients as Swedish Armed Forces, McDonald's, Telia, Volkswagen and Vattenfall. It is also one of the most acclaimed agencies within DDB Worldwide in recent years, earning accolades like "World's best interactive agency" in Cannes 2010 and Cannes Lions Titanium in 2011. The agency, with its 170 employees, is headed by David Sandström, who was the youngest CEO of a DDB office ever, when he assumed the role at an age of 29 in 2012.
DDB San Francisco opened its doors in 1996.
DDB has been cited as one of the leading creative agencies in the world by the Gunn Report (Nov 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010), the International Advertising Festival (June 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011), Campaign (Nov 2007, Nov 2010), Spikes Asia (September 2010), Campaign Asia Pacific (December 2010), Businessweek (Feb 2008), and Global Effies/WARC (June 2011) as well as the European AME awards (2011).