Ad Lib: Havas' Harry Bernstein on 'Fighting Algorithms All Day'

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Harry Bernstein
Harry Bernstein Credit: David Hall

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If you've spent any time in agency circles, you haven't seen a lot of people who look or talk like Harry Bernstein. Tall, bearded, often tie-died and bolo tied, Bernstein, who goes by Harry Bee, is as apt to talk about clean living and guided meditation as he is trap music and Adidas collabs. The through line, though, is that he's apt to talk to anybody about anything.

"We are in the business of communicating with people. And the way people are communicating is changing," he says. "I get to be part of that change."

He's coming off a good year: In September, Havas acquired The 88, the social media and digital shop Bernstein founded in 2010, and brought him on as chief creative officer of the New York office. In the latest edition of the Ad Age Ad Lib podcast, Bernstein talks about what's on his mind as 2018 gets underway—and breaks down his non-traditional approach to advertising.

"I do to know and get paid to know. So I have to do things," he says, explaining his approach as an early social media agency. "We would get work as experts on things that there were no experts on. I would go to clients and be like, 'Dude, Instagram. This is it!' And they're like, 'Harry I believe you; you just seem so into it.' And we would do great work on it."

That approach has won him clients over the years including Adidas, Bloomingdale's, L'Oréal and Supreme, among others. But as the social platforms have evolved—"a tweet can be as powerful as a TV spot," he says—it becomes more about context. If you're Adidas or TD Ameritrade, he says, you'd better be comfortable in your own skin, have a point a view and be involved in the conversation in some way.

"When these channels launched, there were people figuring out these channels. There was channel nativeness. Now it's about, 'What are we talking about?'" he says. "As a brand you need to have a point of view into whatever culture you want to be a part of."

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