In the beginning there was Doyle Dane Bernbach.
For the passionate creative people in the early sixties, it was the only place to be.
Mainly because it was the only place to be.
The great creative agencies that DDB spawned and inspired had yet to be founded. And the country’s most brilliant art directors and writers weren’t dispersed through a dozen or so creative departments as they are today. With very few exceptions, they were all on West 43rd Street.
Roy Grace walked into this hotbed of concentrated talent in 1964. When he left to open Grace & Rothschild 22 years later, he left as Executive Creative Director of DDB Worldwide, and Chairman of the U.S. company.
In between, Doyle Dane Bernbach left its mark on Roy. And Roy left an indelible mark on both DDB and the entire industry.
There wasn’t then, or in the years that followed, a uniform DDB style. The agency’s greatness rested in its ability to attract – and cope with – an assortment of idiosyncratic talents with a spectrum of approaches. On one end was the humanity of Bob Gage. On the other, the cerebral brilliance of Helmut Krone.
To stand out in this environment was no small accomplishment. But Roy accomplished much more than that. He brought with him a personal vision that added a new edge of wit and urbanity to the DDB creative product.
And in the process, he produced a string of seminal commercials, from Volkswagon “Funeral” to Alka-Seltzer “Spicy Meatball,” that for many people have come to epitomize the golden years at Doyle Dane Bernbach.
As well they might.
Twenty-five of “The Hundred Best Commercials of All Time” are Roy’s.
Four of the seventeen commercials in the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection are Roy’s.
In 1980 one of his commercials was named the single best commercial of the previous two decades.
And altogether, his advertising has won so much recognition and so many awards that when we opened Grace & Rothschild, a workman looked around Roy’s office and decided we were starting a trophy business.
He wasn’t entirely wrong.
Because the compulsion toward ingenious and dazzling creative have never diminished in Roy.
Neither have the personal qualities responsible for the quality of his work.
Roy is intensely disciplined. And wildly inventive. He’s innately serious. And constantly funny. He’s idealistic. And pragmatic. Infuriatingly stubborn and endearingly flexible.
Roy is not a simple human being. And he does not do advertising that lends itself to simple analysis.
For all of its humor, his work is much more than humorous.
Complex, textured, frequently ironic, Roy’s advertising is a sophisticated amalgam of intellect and hilarity.
That it’s in museum collections isn’t surprising. I don’t know if advertising is, in fact, art, but I do know that Roy’s advertising is.
Too creatively restless for a single, confining technique, he is constantly exploring, pushing, finding not only variations on old forms, but entirely new forms as well.
The scope of his work spans the zany demonstration of “Gorilla” to the powerful symbolism of Range Rover “Metamorphosis.”
Roy is logical, analytical, and immensely intelligent. He is also fiendishly imaginative and one of the all-time conceptual art directors.
He is impatient with gimmickry, self-conscious style and any visual fad-of-the-moment. Roy’s own graphic inclination is energetic and direct. From typeface to photography, the elements in his ads elegantly and always express the attitude and the message he means to communicate.
At both Doyle Dan Bernbach and Grace & Rothschild, Roy has been an inspiration to countless art directors and copywriters. But while there is much he can, and has, taught, the simple reality is that Roy’s remarkable body of work isn’t a product of rules, formulas, or a technique that can be easily imitated.
It’s a product of his own raw talent and refined taste.
On top of everything else, Roy is also a genuinely thoughtful, generous and gracious man. And to add a personal note to this, I’m grateful that he’s both my partner and my friend.
In fact, I’d call him a creative genius.
But he’d never let me forget it.