Over the five decades of his career, he created one of the biggest advertising agencies in the world, and was widely credited for being the first to turn products into brands. Amongst his ideas were that consumers could be considered as intelligent as advertising people. In fact, David was once famously quoted as saying: "The consumer is not a moron. She is your wife. Try not to insult her intelligence."
He was undoubtedly a non-conformist and often controversial but had clearly defined principles. He believed always that the function of advertising was to sell and that it is possible to determine tangible techniques by which sales are most likely to be produced. Cannes salute
This week, Ogilvy Worldwide will be turning the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity red, in his honour while local offices around the globe will be joining in the David Ogilvy Digital Mosaic campaign, an initiative that will encourage people to Tweet about what inspires them using the hashtag #DO100
. The collection of Tweets will be added to a digital mosaic of David and shared around the world.
Ogilvy remains one of the most famous names in advertising and one of the handful of titans (Raymond Rubicam, Leo Burnett, William Bernbach, Ted Bates) who shaped the business after the 1920s.Varied careers
David Mackenzie Ogilvy was born in West Horsley, England on June 23, 1911. He was educated at Fettes College in Edinburgh and at Christ Church, Oxford. He did not graduate from Oxford; as he put it years later, he "got thrown out." He called this "the real failure of my life ... I was supposed to be a star at Oxford. And instead of that, I was thrown out. I couldn't pass the exams."
After Oxford, Ogilvy went to Paris, where he worked in the kitchen of the Hotel Majestic. Monsieur Pitard, the head chef, made an everlasting impression on him and helped form his principles of management. In a 1972 talk on leadership, he recalled the high morale in Pitard's kitchen: "I saw my old boss in the kitchens of the Hotel Majestic fire one of his chefs because the poor devil could not get his brioches to rise straight. I was shocked by his ruthlessness, but it made all the other chefs feel that they were working in the best kitchen in the world. Their morale would have done credit to the U.S. Marine Corps."
When Ogilvy returned to Britain, he worked as a door-to-door salesman for Aga Cookers. In 1935 he wrote a guide for Aga salesmen that Fortune later called "probably the best sales manual ever written." The 24-year-old author served up timeless advice such as this:
"The more prospects you talk to, the more sales you expose yourself to, the more orders you will get. But never mistake quantity of calls for quality of salesmanship."
In 1936, at the age of 25, he declared that "Every advertisement must tell the whole sales story. Every word in the copy must count," adding that "permanent success has rarely been built on frivolity and...people do not buy from clowns." In a speech to the Association of National Advertisers (U.S.) in 1992, he was still sounding this theme: "If you focus your advertising budget on entertaining the consumer, you may not sell as much of your product as you like. People don't buy a new detergent because the manufacturer told a joke on television last night. They buy it because it promises a benefit."US experience
He emigrated to the US in 1938. He became associate director of George Gallup's Audience Research Institute in Princeton, New Jersey. Ogilvy cites Gallup as one of the major influences on his thinking. Gallup's meticulous research methods and devotion to reality became characteristics of his own approach to everything that came before him.
During World War II, he worked with British Security Coordination and served as second secretary to the British Embassy in Washington. He reported to Sir William Stephenson, learning, among other things, the art of the terse note. Memos to Sir William were returned swiftly to the sender with one of three words written in hand at the top: YES, NO, or SPEAK (meaning come to see him).
In 1948, he founded the agency, now known as Ogilvy & Mather. Starting with no clients and a staff of two, he built the company into a worldwide enterprise.
Despite the austerity of his doctrine, as a copywriter he was personally responsible for many of advertising's most famously sophisticated campaigns. These include The Man in the Hathaway Shirt, the series of advertisements for Schweppes featuring Commander Whitehead and, perhaps the best-known headline ever written for an automobile ad, "At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock."Ogilvyisms
Ogilvy has been widely quoted both in and beyond the advertising industry including such memorable sayings:
"You cannot bore people into buying your product; you can only interest them in buying it."
"Never run an advertisement you would not want your own family to see."
"We prefer the discipline of knowledge to the anarchy of ignorance. We pursue knowledge the way a pig pursues truffles."
"Encourage innovation. Change is our life blood, stagnation is our death knell."
"I believe in the Scottish proverb: Hard work never killed a man. Men die of boredom. They do not die of hard work."
He published his first book, Confessions of an Advertising Man
, in 1963. It became the most widely read book ever written about advertising. In 1978, Ogilvy published his autobiography, Blood, Brain & Beer
. Five years later, Ogilvy on Advertising
expanded on Ogilvy's beliefs about advertising. Together, these books set forth a coherent point of view and a compendium of detailed knowledge and specific advice, unlike any other available to practitioners of advertising.Will any agency hire this man?
After the war, Ogilvy lived among the Amish in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania and worked as a farmer.
In 1948, he founded the New York-based ad agency Hewitt, Ogilvy, Benson & Mather (its name changed to Ogilvy, Benson & Mather in 1953 and later to Ogilvy & Mather International in 1965 and finally Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide in the mid-eighties), with the financial backing of London agency Mather & Crowther.
Thirty-three years later, he sent the following memo to one of his partners: 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 an agency to be imaginative and unorthodox in hiring. D.O."
In his agency's first twenty years, Ogilvy almost single-handedly won assignments from Lever Brothers, General Foods, and American Express. Shell gave him their entire account in North America. Sears hired him for their first national advertising campaign.
In 1965, Ogilvy merged the agency with Mather & Crowther, his London backers, to form a new international company. One year later the company went public - one of the first advertising firms to do so.Busy retirement
From 1958 to 1960, Ogilvy served as chairman of the Public Participation Committee for Lincoln Center, helping raise funds to build the huge performing arts complex in New York. He was appointed Chairman of the United Negro College Fund in 1968 and trustee on the Executive Council of the World Wildlife Fund in 1975.
Ogilvy had lived full-time at Touffou, France since 1973 and retired as chairman of Ogilvy & Mather in 1975. While no longer responsible for the day-to-day management of the firm, he stayed in touch by telex, fax and mail. His correspondence so dramatically increased the volume of mail handled in the nearby town of Bonnes, France that the post office was reclassified at a higher status and the postmaster's salary raised.
By the time Ogilvy moved to France, Ogilvy & Mather had expanded around the world and was firmly in place as one of the top agencies in all regions. He emerged from Touffou on occasion to visit branches of the company in many countries and to deliver speeches to gatherings of clients and other business audiences.
In a 1991 address to the Association of National Advertisers (U.S.), he continued to trumpet his lifelong themes. The speech ended, "I once got a new client who told me to create a campaign, which would make his friends at his country club congratulate him on his clever, amusing advertising. I refused to do that. I just gave him a campaign which research had told me was likely to increase his sales. No manufacturer has ever complained that his advertising was selling too much."
In 1989 The Ogilvy Group was bought by WPP, a British holding company, for US $864 million. The purchase made WPP, which also owned the advertising agency J. Walter Thompson and a number of other companies, the largest marketing communications firm in the world. Martin Sorrell, the chief executive of WPP, asked Ogilvy to serve as the holding company's non-executive chairman, a post he held for three years.British, US, French honours
In an interview on his 75th birthday, Ogilvy was asked if anything he'd always wanted had somehow eluded him. His reply, "Knighthood. And a big family - ten children." His only child, David Fairfield Ogilvy, of Greenwich, Connecticut, was born during his first marriage, to Melinda Street. That marriage ended in divorce (1955) as did a second marriage to Anne Cabot. Ogilvy married Herta Lans in France in 1973.
Although he did not achieve knighthood, Ogilvy was made a commander of the British Empire in 1967. He was elected to the Advertising Hall of Fame in the US in 1977 and to France's "Order of Arts and Letters" in 1990.
He died on July 21, 1999 at his home in Touffou, France after a long illness. He is survived by his wife, the former Herta Lans, as well as his son, David Fairfield Ogilvy, daughter-in-law Cookie Ogilvy and three step grandsons.
For further information, go to Ogilvy.com/DO100