Ogilvy, known as the “Father of Advertising,” died in 1999. Five years later, Wikipedia notes, “Adweek magazine asked people in the business, ‘Which individuals--alive or dead--made you consider pursuing a career in advertising?’” Ogilvy topped the list. His best-selling book, Confessions of an Advertising Man, is one of the most popular and famous books on advertising.
After his formal retirement in 1973, Ogilvy continued to exert influence over the creative direction of the firm from his estate in France. In 1986, at his 75th birthday celebration in London, his partners presented him with “The unpublished David Ogilvy—a selection of his writings from the files of his partners.”
Think about that tribute for a moment: His coworkers thought enough of Ogilvy to preserve and publish the memos and notes he’d written them during his long career.
The other day, my friend presented me with a copy of the book, and I have greatly enjoyed reading through the wit and wisdom of David Ogilvy. Below I share a few of the entries, just as useful today as they were as much as a half century ago.
A Note On Follow-upAs further evidence of David Ogilvy’s compassion, the inscription to my friend’s mother’s copy of Ogilviy’s Confessions of an Advertising Man read: "My first and nicest partner."
I thought you promised to show me the Sears ads (with copy) last Tuesday.
It is now three months since Struthers picked them.
Longer than the period of gestation in PIGS.
A Little More on Follow-up
A few weeks ago, I asked you to send me the names of anybody on your staff who might qualify to become a Creative Director.
Twenty of you sent me a total of 49 names.
One of you sent me six names—his entire creative staff, I suspect; a charitable fellow.
Eleven of you told me that you have nobody who could qualify to become a Creative Director. You have problems. Something wrong with your hiring methods?
Ten of you have not answered. Bastards.
On “Truth in Advertising”
Asked to pick from two pictures of himself for an annual report, Ogilvy wrote:
I like (A) better because it makes me look YOUNGER and NICER. But no man should be allowed to pick his own photo. So I defer to your judgment.
On Asking the Right Question
Ogilvy did not like to fly, explaining that “Everything began one beautiful summer evening in Stockholm in the 1930’s. I was on a cruise, but when I arrived late back to the harbour one evening the boat had already left. There was no alternative but to fly to Helsinki. The plane was a three-engined Junkers which swayed and shook in a rather disturbing manner. I felt terrible and lost my taste for flying for life. . . .”
In 1985, when informed that aviation technology had made giant leaps, Ogilvy asked; “Turbulence is what frightened me. Is there more or less of it on the Concorde?”
On Giving Praise (or, Be Nice to Get A Linked-In Rec Like This!)
Ogilvy wrote to a veteran copywriter:
Shyness makes it impossible for me to tell any man what I think of him when he is still alive. However, if I outlive you, I shall write an obituary along these lines:
_____ was probably the nicest man I have ever known. His kindness to me, and to dozens of other people, was nothing short of angelic.
Many nice men are too dumb to be anything else. But _____ was far from dumb. Indeed, he had a superb intelligence.
His judgment of men and events was infallible; I came to rely on it more and more as the years went by.
He was one of my few partners who worked harder and longer hours than I did. He gave value for money. And he knew his trade.
He was an honest man, in the largest sense of the word. He had a glorious sense of humor.
He had the courage to challenge me when he thought I was wrong, but he always contrived to do it without annoying me.
There was nothing saccharine about him. Tolerant as he was, he did not like everybody; he disliked the people who deserved to be disliked.
He never pursued popularity; but he inspired universal affection. . .
On Hiring the New Employee
Will Any Agency Hire This Man?
He is 38, and unemployed. He dropped out of college. He has been a cook, a salesman, a diplomatist and a farmer. He knows nothing about marketing, and has never written any copy. He professes to be interested in advertising as a career (at the age of 38!) and is ready to go to work for $5,000 a year.
I doubt if any American agency will hire him.
However, a London agency did hire him. Three years later he became the most famous copywriter in the world, and in due course built the tenth biggest agency in the world.
The moral: it sometimes pays to be imaginative and unorthodox in hiring.
More on Great Hiring
A Word to the Wise
Long ago I realized that I lack competence, or interest, or both, in several areas of our business. Notably television programming, finance, administration, commercial production and marketing.
So, I hired people who are strong in those areas where I am weak.
Every one of you Syndicate Heads is strong in some areas, weak in others. Take my advice: get people alongside you who make up for your weaknesses.
If you are strong in production and weak in strategy, have a strategist as your right arm.
If you are strong on strategy and weak in production, have a production genius as your right arm. . .
Don’t compound your own weaknesses by employing people in key positions who have the same weaknesses.
Who wants to admit, even to himself, that he has no taste, or is bored by television production, or inadequate on strategy?
Ah, that is the question.
On Honest Feedback
One of the recipients of Ogilvy’s memo responded, asking advice on the types of people he should hire. Ogilvy responded:
You are the only one of the Syndicate Heads who has asked me this question. Which says a lot about you.
It would be easier for me to answer the question specifically for certain other Syndicate Heads.
A has terrible taste, so should get some who has good taste
B is a mere execution man—he should get a strategist
C is blind to graphics and so are his art directors
E is a shit and should hire an angel. . .
On the Nature of a Learning Organization
A Teaching Hospital
I have a new metaphor.
Great hospitals do two things: They look after patients, and they teach young doctors.
Ogilvy & Mather does two things: We look after clients, and we teach young advertising people.
Ogilvy & Mather is the teaching hospital of the advertising world. And, as such, to be respected above all other agencies.
I prefer this to Stanley Resor’s old saying that J. Walter Thompson was a “university of advertising.”
List One: The Qualifications of Leaders
1. High standards of personal ethics.
2. Big people, without pettiness.
3. Guts under pressure, resilience in defeat.
4. Brilliant brains—not safe plodders.
5. A capacity for hard work and midnight oil.
6. Charisma—charm and persuasiveness.
7. A streak of unorthodoxy—creative innovators.
8. The courage to make tough decisions.
9. Inspiring enthusiasts—with thrust and gusto.
10. A sense of humor.
List Two: Know Thyself
An account manager wrote to Ogilvy wondering what he considered his worst shortcomings. Ogilvy wrote:
1. I am intolerant of mediocrity—and laziness.
2. I fritter away too much time on things which aren’t important.
3. Like everyone of my age, I talk too much about the past.
4. I have always flunked firing people who needed to be fired.
5. I am afraid of flying and go to ridiculous lengths to avoid it.
6. When I was Creative Head in New York, I wrote too much of the advertising myself.
7. I know nothing about finance.
8. I change my mind—about advertising and about people.
9. I am candid to the point of indiscretion.
10. I see too many sides to every argument.
11. I am over-impressed by physical beauty.
12. I have a low threshold of boredom.