DOA Q+A: David Ogilvy, Advertiser


What would Ogilvy do? At the height of his reign on Madison Avenue, Time called him the most sought-after wizard in the advertising industry. Its been over a decade since his death, but given the rapid changes in advertising, media and marketing, we decided to ask him, albeit posthumously, about his thoughts on the ever-evolving culture and business on Madison Avenue. In a candid, insightful and largely fabricated mashup of his verbatim responses to MEDIAs contemporary questions, the father of modern advertising reflects on its future.

How much has the business changed since the Ogilvy Era, and what do you make of the shift toward performance and ROI, and away from general branding?

We Directs belong to a different world. Their gods are not our gods. Generalists regard us Directs as inferior citizens. They think they are the Brahmins of advertising and we are the untouchables. They pride themselves on being creative whatever that awful word means. They cultivate the mystique of creativity. Some of them are pretentious poseurs. Their ambition is to win awards at the Cannes Festival. They go there every year like Muslims going to Mecca. They are the glamour boys and girls of the advertising community. They regard advertising as an art form and expect your clients to finance expressions of their genius.

How does this play into the convergence of all forms of media that we see today?

People who work in Direct do not regard advertising as an art form. Clients dont give a damn whether we win awards at Cannes. They pay us to sell their products. We in Direct Response know exactly, to a penny, how many products we sell with each of our advertisements and each exposure of our commercials. We sell or else! [All the new media allows us to] pack our advertisements and our letters with information about the product.

Are you saying there is no place for creativity in advertising even as the industry continues to evolve and change with myriad outlets for selling?

No, not at all! According to Advertising Age, I am the uncrowned creative king of the advertising world. But in the presence of Direct Professionals, I am a humble amateur. Sooner or later clients will begin saying, we want our advertising to be as professional as our engineering. Direct is the backbone of advertising. In our headlines we promise the consumer a benefit. Generalists dont think that is creative. As Benton and Bowles say, If it doesnt sell, it isnt creative.

So, by that logic, anything that sells is creative?

Thats right, but one must always keep in mind that advertising is salesmanship it is not fine art, literature or entertainment.

Even though advertising is undergoing pivotal changes in terms of the way information is disseminated with new technologies and mediums, the fundamentals of the business stay the same?

Absolutely. Doesnt matter if youre on Mars. Every advertisement should be thought of as a contribution to the complex symbol which is the brand image. Quality is of utmost importance always give your product a first-class ticket through life.

Does the changing landscape have any impact on how you treat the consumer?

I dont think so. Listen, the consumer is not a moron; she is your wife. Never write an advertisement you would not want your own family to read. You would not tell lies to your wife. Dont tell them to mine.

Throughout your decades in the industry, youve maintained the same principles for selling?

When I was 25, I sold Aga cooking stoves door to door in Scotland. I had no experience, but I sold so well that the company charged me with writing the manual on how to sell the stoves. I never lied. I said, The Aga is the only cooker in the world with a guaranteed maximum-fuel consumption Stress the fact that no cook can make her Aga burn more fuel than this, however stupid, extravagant or careless she may be, or however much she may cook. If more fuel is consumed, it is being stolen, and the police should be called in immediately. Simple, honest and, most importantly, it sold. I wrote that in 1936, and Id write the same thing in 2036.

You came into the industry rather late, but you became a game-changer and made Madison Avenue pay attention.

I opened my agency when I was 38 with little advertising experience. Madison Avenue thought I was nuts. What could this Scotsman know about the business? I read every book on advertising. I studied direct-mail advertising. I listened.

Any evergreen advice for MEDIA readers?

Hire people who are better than you, and pay them more if necessary. Thats how you build a great agency. I always say, if we hire people who are smaller than we are, we will become a company of dwarfs. If we hire people who are larger than we are, well become a company of giants. Invest in your people. Look at it this way: great hospitals do two things. They look after patients, and they teach young doctors. You should look after clients, and teach young advertising people. Thats how you make the cash register ring.

Is that the secret? The people?

The right people bring the big ideas, and unless your advertising is based on a big idea, it will pass like a ship in the night.

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