So said David Ogilvy in a now-forgotten book, "The Art of Writing Advertising," published in 1965. Eighteen years later, he more or less got his wish. That's when three creatives left what was then Ogilvy & Mather's San Francisco office to form Goodby, Berlin & Silverstein.
Within 10 years, this agency would emerge as a dominant creative force in the advertising industry; prime purveyors, along with a handful of others, of that "new dialectic" the old master had so uncannily foreseen.
In a prescient bit of irony, 1983 was also the year Mr. Ogilvy followed up "Confessions of an Advertising Man," the 1963 volume that cemented his reputation as a leading spokesman for the industry, with "Ogilvy on Advertising." A blurb on the cover flap, attributed to Advertising Age, proclaimed: "David Ogilvy stands alone as creative king of the advertising world."
In fact, he wasn't alone, but among such celebrated fellow writers as Bill Bernbach, Leo Burnett and Rosser Reeves. All are gone from the industry, but not in spirit; their teachings still resonate.
Identifying their modern-day successors is not an easy task. These early stars of the business were followed by others who served as creative leaders of their respective generations -- George Lois and Mary Wells in the 1960s; Carl Ally, Jerry Della Femina and Ed McCabe in the '70s; Hal Riney, Jay Chiat and Phil Dusenberry in the '80s. But the business has undergone dramatic change as consumers have grown more savvy, media have fragmented and the pressures of the public markets have helped shatter once-sacred agency/client relationships.
The ad business today has no outspoken leaders standing up at the podium. The modern creative kings don't write books, rarely give interviews or lay out their theories on advertising. They've endorsed no lists of rules, proffered no simple maxims like Mr. Ogilvy's famous "When you don't have anything to say, sing it."
That doesn't mean there are no leaders, no creative directors whose bodies of work are reshaping the industry, building their agencies into powerhouse forces and earning reputations for fostering breakthrough concepts and executions.
FOUR TO FOLLOW
Who fits this bill? Whether interviewing industry leaders or examining the question from varied viewpoints, the same names crop up again and again: Dan Wieden of Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore.; Jeff Goodby and Rich Silverstein of Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco; and Lee Clow of Venice, Calif.'s TBWA Chiat/Day (see below and Page 22 for profiles).
These are individuals who continue to set creative standards today, not those who made headlines and swept awards shows yesterday. They're hands-on creative directors who still influence and shape their agencies' portfolios. The collected work of their agencies has changed -- is still changing -- the way consumers, the media and the business community view advertising. And their reputations will likely long outlive their careers.
These four share other things in common: While two of them -- Messrs. Goodby and Silverstein -- are from the east, all have spent their agency careers out west.
None adhere to formulas; nor are they believers in hard-sell. Rather, they are masters of pop culture, each with an intuitive ability to marshal its appeals, attitudes and icons and turn them into potent and potentially enduring branding messages.
There's no bombast here, no overt self-aggrandizement. People who know Dan Wieden could never see him writing a book like Mr. Della Femina's "From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbor."
Bill Westbrook, president and creative director of Fallon McElligott, Minneapolis, said the strength of the four "might be more about earned respect and less about leadership."
Indeed, their collective passion for the quality of their agencies' work, combined with their refusal to play by the rules of earlier generations, has helped redefine what it means to be a creative leader in advertising.
Mike Hughes, creative director of the Martin Agency, Richmond, Va., said advertising's creative giants used to be people who were "larger than life." Now, they're more likely to be the type who "keep their heads down, but year after year are involved with the industry's best work.
"With these guys, their forums are their work," Mr. Hughes said. "You won't get insights into the business from them."
PAST AGENCY CULTURES
"The giants of the past formed a culture around their vision, and people followed it because they were visionaries," said Rick Boyko, president and chief creative officer of O&M's New York office, who worked for Mr. Clow earlier in his career. "Now we have four people who might not be as visionary but are solely imbued in advertising. In the culture of their agencies, advertising pumps through the veins of the place. In other agencies, not every department lives and breathes that."
A SOCIAL FORCE
If pronouncements and books are out the window, what's replaced them is a conscious desire to lift the intelligence level of advertising. Today's leaders see advertising as an uplifting social force, as a way not only to persuade but to inspire and entertain.
One thing hasn't changed. The creative leaders of the '90s are concerned with producing work that doesn't insult consumers, but treats them with respect. In that regard, they're clearly carrying on the best traditions of Messrs. Bernbach and Ogilvy.
Mr. Hughes has theories on what makes each of the modern-day leaders unique.
"What Jeff and Rich do, they're like Frank Capra -- they bend over backwards to please people," he said. "They're not caught up in current fads or styles, but rather in what's going to connect with people.
"Wieden, on the other hand, shows a completely different approach to the business, and that is to show you what is new. And because it's new, it doesn't always succeed, but it's a heroic effort."
TBWA Chiat/Day provides campaigns "so culturally resonant that everyone ends up talking about them," Mr. Hughes added. "Love it or hate it, it finds a way to get under people's skin and rises to the level of day-to-day consciousness."
TEST OF TIME?
One key to the leaders' legacies will be how well the work of their agencies stands the test of time.
"Years from now, will people look at `Got milk?' the same way they look at Volkswagen [ads of the '60s] today?" asked Ron Berger, partner and creative director at Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmetterer/Euro RSGC, New York. "Somewhere in this needs to be a discussion of endurance, either in relationships, in the quality of work for a single client over time or for a body of work for a range of clients over time, in which the agency becomes what endures."