PERSPECTIVE: David Ogilvy’s death robs the industry of a true phenomenon

I never met David Ogilvy, and feel the poorer for it. But although I'm too young to have experienced his ads contemporaneously, I feel confident I know what he stood for. In part, this is down to his writing - including two of the most famous of advertising books: Confessions of an Advertising Man (1963) and Ogilvy on Advertising (1983). But, in truth, it's more to do with the company he kept: the people he employed at Ogilvy & Mather, and the overwhelmingly strong culture he fostered.

It was, and remains, a fundamentally decent place. Of course, there will be former staff with individual bad experiences of O&M who may feel differently, but alongside Abbott Mead Vickers (run by ex-O&M managers), it is conspicuously an agency that tries to conduct its dealings with staff and clients alike honourably.

The same can be said of the agency’s work, built on the austerity of Ogilvy’s doctrines.

In 1936, at the age of 25, he declared: ’Every advertisement must tell the whole sales story ... every word in the copy must count.’ Later, he said: ’Permanent success has rarely been built on frivolity ... people do not buy from clowns.’

Some of his sayings sound mildly patronising in the context of the 90s, but they were radical for their time, and still hold largely true: ’The consumer is not a moron, she is your wife,’ and ’Never run an advertisement you would not want your own family to see,’ are probably the most famous.

More recently, he was better known for his kneejerk reaction to being acquired by Martin Sorrell. However, Ogilvy reconciled himself to the fact, accepting the non-executive chairmanship of WPP for three years.

It would be a shame if the more recent post-retirement image of Ogilvy as a wealthy recluse tending magnificent gardens in his famous French chateau obscured his business achievements.

They were phenomenal. He grew Hewitt, Ogilvy, Benson & Mather from two men and no clients in 1948 to the international monolith that floated in 1966, along the way creating some of advertising’s most famous icons: ’The Man in the Hathaway Shirt’, ’Commander Schweppes’ and others.

Ogilvy, a former Aga cookers salesman who went on to work for George Gallup in New York, was neither ashamed of selling nor afraid of using research. Although sayings such as: ’We prefer the discipline of knowledge to the anarchy of ignorance. We pursue knowledge the way a pig pursues truffles,’ might suggest a scientific approach, Ogilvy taught that advertising was a blend of art and science. ’You cannot bore people into buying your product,’ he said, ’you can only interest them in buying it.’ He had no time for ’luvvies’.

David Ogilvy was one of the handful of men who shaped the advertising industry that we know today. He dedicated his remarkable working life to improving the standards of that industry. He will be greatly missed.


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