David MacKenzie Ogilvy (June 23, 1911 – July 21, 1999), was a notable advertising executive, whose work was known for its creativity; he became known as the "Father of Advertising." He also introduced the concept of brand image to advertising. Ogilvy established a successful advertising agency, Ogilvy & Mather, institutionalizing his values so well that it prospered after his retirement and has continued to be successful, keeping his name.
Ogilvy began his advertising agency with very little, but his own creative ability together with his insights into the purpose and method of advertising brought incredible success. Believing that the function of advertising is to sell the product, and that success is based on knowing the consumer of that product, Ogilvy brilliantly combined his creativity with detailed research both on the product and on the consumer. He demanded high standards in all his work and that of those who worked for him, with the belief that the best way to gain new clients was to do great work for existing clients. He also believed that it was better not to advertise than to use poorly written or designed advertisements.
Ogilvy's legacy is not just an advertising agency, albeit a world-renowned one, or several publications that continue to excite and inform those who would enter or are already working in the field. His life is one of inspiration to others. Although he did not achieve the large family or a knighthood, which with his well-known wit he claimed to be the things he had always wanted, his life was one of remarkable self-made success. The iconic images of his advertisements have lasted far beyond their creator's life, and his business advice, such as to hire people greater not lesser than ourselves, stands all who follow it in good stead.
David Mackenzie Ogilvy was born on June 23, 1911, at West Horsley, Surrey, in England. His father was a Gaelic-speaking highlander from Scotland who was a classics scholar and financial broker. His mother was Irish.
At the age of 13 he attended Fettes College, in Edinburgh, and won a scholarship in history to Christ Church, Oxford six years later in 1929. Without the scholarship he would have been unable to attend university because his father's business was badly hit by the depression of the mid-twenties. However, his studies were unsuccessful and he left Oxford for Paris in 1931 without graduating. There, he became an apprentice chef in the Majestic Hotel, where he learned discipline, management, and to move on when the time was right: "If I stayed at the Majestic I would have faced years of slave wages, fiendish pressure, and perpetual exhaustion."
After a year in Paris he returned to England and started selling Aga cooking stoves door-to-door, with surprising success. His employer asked him to write an instruction manual, The Theory and Practice of Selling the AGA cooker, for the other salesmen. Thirty years later this manual was still read by Fortune magazine editors. They called it the finest sales instruction manual ever written. His older brother Francis Ogilvy, who was working for the London advertising agency Mather & Crowther, showed this manual to the agency management, who offered Ogilvy a position as an account executive.
After only a few months in advertising Ogilvy did something that changed the business forever. A man walked into the London agency wanting to advertise the opening of his hotel. Since he had only $500 to spend he was turned over to the novice, Ogilvy. Young Ogilvy bought $500 worth of postcards and sent an invitation to everybody he found in the local telephone directory. The hotel opened with a full house. "I had tasted blood," said Ogilvy in his 1985 Confessions. This is also where he came to know Direct advertising, his "Secret Weapon" as he called it in his 1983 publication, Ogilvy on Advertising.
In 1938, Ogilvy immigrated to the United States, working for George Gallup's Audience Research Institute in New Jersey. Gallup was a major influences on Ogilvy, emphasizing meticulous research methods and adherence to reality.
During World War II, Ogilvy worked with the Intelligence Service at the British Embassy in Washington DC, making recommendations on matters of diplomacy and security. According to the biography produced by Ogilvy & Mather, "he extrapolated his knowledge of human behavior from consumerism to nationalism in a report which suggested 'applying the Gallup technique to fields of secret intelligence.'" Many of his suggestions were taken up by Eisenhower’s Psychological warfare Board and put to work in Europe toward the end of the war.
After the war, Ogilvy bought a farm in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania and lived among the Amish where Ogilvy and his wife, Melinda Street, enjoyed the serene, and contented atmosphere for several years. Eventually, though, he admitted his limitations as a farmer and moved to New York. His only child, David Fairfield Ogilvy, was born during his first marriage. That marriage ended in divorce, in 1955, as did a second marriage to Anne Cabot.
In New York, in 1948, Ogilvy founded the advertising agency that became the world-renowned Ogilvy & Mather. From the very beginning he intended to form a different kind of company. The first two fundamental components of his advertising brand would be the quality and diversity of the people, and the quality and class of the operation. The third component was his belief in brands. Ogilvy's agency has helped to build some of the most recognizable brands in the world, including American Express, Sears, Ford, Shell, Dove, IBM, and Kodak.
In 1973, Ogilvy retired as Chairman of Ogilvy & Mather and moved to Touffou, his estate in France. He married his third wife, Herta Lans, there. While no longer involved in day-to-day operations of the agency, he stayed in touch with the company. Indeed, his correspondence so dramatically increased the volume of mail handled in the nearby town of Bonnes that the post office was reclassified at a higher status and the postmaster's salary raised.
Ogilvy came out of retirement in the 1980s to serve as chairman of Ogilvy & Mather in India. He also spent a year acting as temporary chairman of the agency’s German office, commuting daily between Touffou and Frankfurt. He visited branches of the company around the world, and continued to represent Ogilvy & Mather at gatherings of clients and business audiences.
At age 75, Ogilvy was asked if anything he'd always wanted had somehow eluded him. His reply, "Knighthood. And a big family – ten children." Although he did not achieve knighthood, he was made a Commander of the British Empire in 1967. Other honors include election to the US Advertising Hall of Fame in 1977 and to France's "Order of Arts and Letters" in 1990.
David Ogilvy died on July 21, 1999, aged 88, at his home in Touffou, France.
After working as a chef, researcher, and farmer, Ogilvy started his own advertising agency with the backing of two London agencies: S. H. Benson and Mather and Crowther, which was at that time being run by his elder brother Francis. The agency was called Ogilvy, Benson and Mather, later Ogilvy and Mather. Ogilvy had just $6000 in his account when he started the agency. He writes in Confessions of an Advertising Man that initially he had to struggle to get clients.
Ogilvy & Mather was built on David Ogilvy's principles: in particular, that the function of advertising is to sell, and that successful advertising for any product is based on information about its consumer. Ogilvy’s advertising mantra followed these four basic principles.
- Research—Coming, as he did, from a background in research, he never underestimated its importance in advertising. In fact, in 1952, when he opened his own agency, he billed himself as Research Director.
- Professional discipline—“I prefer the discipline of knowledge to the chaos of ignorance.” He codified knowledge into slide and film presentations he called Magic Lanterns. He also instituted several training programs for young advertising professionals.
- Creative brilliance—A strong emphasis on the “BIG IDEA.”
- Results for clients—“In the modern world of business, it is useless to be a creative, original thinker unless you can also sell what you create.”
His entry into the company of giants started with several iconic campaigns in which Ogilvy brought the concept of the brand image into the world of advertising. In 1955, speaking to the American Association of Advertising Agencies, he explained: "Every advertisement should be thought of as a contribution to the complex symbol which is the brand image." He believed that the best way to get new clients was to do great work for existing clients. And he was right. Success of his early campaigns helped him to get big clients like Rolls-Royce and Shell. He created an avalanche of new clients and Ogilvy & Mather was an instant success. He was widely hailed as the "Father of Advertising," and in 1962 Time called him “the most sought-after wizard in today's advertising industry."
- Baron Wrangel, “The man in the Hathaway shirt” with his aristocratic eye patch.
- “The man from Schweppes is here” introduced Commander Whitehead, the elegant bearded Brit, bringing Schweppes (and “Schweppervesence”) to the U.S.
- Perhaps the most famous headline in the car business – “At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock.”
- “Pablo Casals is coming home – to Puerto Rico.” Ogilvy said this campaign, which helped change the image of a country, was his proudest achievement.
- Perhaps his greatest sales success (for which he is less recognized) – “Only Dove is one-quarter cleansing cream.” With this positioning, still being used 50 years later, Dove now outsells every soap in the U.S. and around the world.
Ogilvy was a master at using images and experiences to make indelible points: When someone is made the head of an office in the Ogilvy & Mather chain, I send him a Matrioshka doll from Gorky. If he has the curiosity to open it, and keep opening it until he comes to the inside of the smallest doll, he finds this message: If each of us hires people who are smaller than we are, we shall become a company of dwarfs. But if each of us hires people who are bigger than we are, we shall become a company of giants. As a memo, such a statement would have had little lasting impact; nobody forgot the Russian dolls.
He also dispensed invaluable advice for advertisers based on his own experiences, both successes and failures:
Viewers have a way of remembering the celebrity while forgetting the product. I did not know this when I paid Eleanor Roosevelt $35,000 to make a commercial for margarine. She reported that her mail was equally divided. "One half was sad because I had damaged my reputation. The other half was happy because I had damaged my reputation." Not one of my proudest memories.
Always hold your sales meetings in rooms too small for the audience, even if it means holding them in the WC. 'Standing room only' creates an atmosphere of success, as in theatres and restaurants, while a half-empty auditorium smells of failure.
His standards were cemented into the ethos of his company, changing the face of advertising. Ogilvy taught that quality in advertising was essential, "Always give your product a first-class ticket through life." He recognized the value of branding, he was staunch proponent of direct marketing, and he also demanded that research be done both on the products being advertised and the methods of advertising, to establish a base of knowledge on what works. He never underestimated the consumer, and admonished those who would:
There are now unmistakable signs of a trend in favor of superior products at premium prices. The consumer is not a moron, she is your wife.
Never Write an Advertisement Which You Wouldn't Want Your Own Family To Read. You wouldn't tell lies to your own wife. Don't tell them to mine. Do as you would be done by.
Ogilvy's legacy includes the concept of "branding" in which the brand name becomes linked to its products, often by the use of distinctive style in advertising. His "man in the Hathaway shirt" with his aristocratic eye patch, and "the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock" were powerful images that remained with the public, inextricably linked with the product.
In 2004, Adweek magazine asked people in the business “Which individuals—alive or dead—made you consider pursuing a career in advertising?” Ogilvy topped the list. The same result was obtained when students of advertising were surveyed. His best-selling book Confessions of an Advertising Man continues to be one of the most popular and famous books on advertising.
- Ogilvy, D. 1978. Blood, Brains, and Beer: An Autobiography of David Oglivy. Atheneum Publishers. ISBN 978-0689108099. Revised and republished in 1997 as An Autobiography Wiley. ISBN 978-0471180029
- Ogilvy, D. 1983. Ogilvy on Advertising. Toronto: John Wiley and Sons. ISBN 051755075X
- Ogilvy, D. 1985. Confessions of an Advertising Man. Atheneum. ISBN 0689708009
- David Ogilvy The One Club. Retrieved May 19, 2023.
- The Theory and Practice of Selling the Aga Cooker (January 2012). Retrieved May 19, 2023.
- David Ogilvy, Confessions of an Advertising Man (Atheneum, 1985, ISBN 0689708009).
- David Ogilvy, Ogilvy on Advertising (Toronto: John Wiley and Sons, 1983, ISBN 051755075X).
- Kenneth Roman, "David Ogilvy: The most famous advertising man in the world," Speech at the University Club – New York (November 17, 2004).
- George Alger, David Ogilvy’s Secret Weapon of Advertising Skyworks Marketing (March 16, 2023). Retrieved May 19, 2023.
ReferencesISBN links support NWE through referral fees
- Higgins, Denis. The Art of Writing Advertising: Conversations with Masters of the Craft: David Ogilvy, William Bernbach, Leo Burnett, Rosser Reeves. McGraw-Hill, 2003. ISBN 978-0071410939
- Mayer, Martin. Madison Avenue USA. The Bodley Head, 1958. ASIN B000M4SNW6
- Roman, Kenneth. The King of Madison Avenue. St. Martin's Griffin, 2010. ISBN 978-0230100367
- Roman, Kenneth and Jane Maas. How to Advertise, 3rd ed. St. Martin's Griffin, 2005. ISBN 978-0312340216
- Applegate, Edd C. The Ad Men and Women: A Biographical Dictionary of Advertising. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1994. ISBN 0313278016
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