David Ogilvy was (is) the Great Guru of Advertising, The Man, He Who Should Be Obeyed. What I know of the advertising industry I probably got from him, directly or indirectly. He died on July 21, 1999, aged 88. We, the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed Marketing youngsters who thought advertising was easy and good for all sorts of things and rather fun besides, were made to read his books and study the work of “his” agency, Ogilvy & Mather, until we got into our heads what NOT to do. Few companies could afford the high-end services of an agency like Ogilvy & Mather, though I did have dealings with them. I worked much more with their almost-as-famous competitor, Saatchi & Saatchi. We used to call the guys from Saatchi “the ponytails” since they always seemed to be hipsters with not the foggiest notion about our industry. One of their account managers referred to radio listeners and TV viewers (and us?) as “the plant life”. No love lost there, then.Years of dealing with the plant life and the ponytails left me with a permanent distrust of ad agencies and the work they do. Ogilvy himself had some pretty sharpish comments about the ad industry, but always hit the nail on the head. For instance:
“You cannot bore people into buying your product. You can only interest them in buying it.”
“It was a mistake, not because it was sexy, but because it was irrelevant to the product.” (His comment on an ad he designed featuring an Impressionist painting with nudes.)
“Unless your advertising contains a Big Idea, it will pass like a ship in the night.”
“Advertising should be true, credible and pleasant. People do not buy from bad-mannered liars.”
“Your role is to sell, don’t let anything distract you from the sole purpose of advertising.”
“If you tell lies about a product, you will be found out — either by the Government, which will prosecute you, or by the consumer, who will punish you by not buying your product a second time.”
Below is a humorous take on what Ogilvy might have said to the ad agency creatives of today. I had a good laugh when I read it (thanks, Adweak!). Truth is, I catch myself thinking these things when I’m having an ordinary day at the office with my clients – just replace “agency” with “office” and “smoke my pipe” with anything that is inconvenient in an open plan. As they say, many a true word is spoken in jest. When clients think it is easy-peasy to slap together an ad for a magazine (“Hey, it’s just a logo and a picture and you can do it in Powerpoint! What do you mean resolution? What resolution?!? Oh just cut and paste that.”), I just shut up and think of what a lovely rant David Ogilvy would’ve had about that.