Never had I met someone so simultaneously courtly and so curt, so paradoxically ungentle and genteel. I watched in astonishment as he ordered a snack as follows: "Beer and smoked trout. I want it fast."
If the poor waiter was expecting a "hello" or a "please" it didn't show; the beer and trout quickly did, however.
Mr. Ogilvy, who made a large reputation and even larger fortune being direct, spared me not one shred of moral certainty as he expounded on his principles of advertising, which boiled down to his unshakeable belief that advertising is selling and to hell with anything that gets in the way.
"I shall go to my grave," he told me, "believing that, given two minutes on television, I could sell any product on the face of the earth."
Oddly, what he couldn't sell anyone at that stage were his principles themselves. Oh, the book was a big hit, but even in 1983 the very industry that so venerated him was ignoring, in the practice of advertising, virtually everything he preached. Mr. Ogilvy, for example, loved long copy. By 1983, there was no such thing as long copy. Today, now that print has become magazine-sized outdoor, there is no copy at all. As for selling via TV, one wonders, too. As Mr. Ogilvy does indeed go to his grave, two minutes of advertising is three 30-second spots and two :15s.
The situation wasn't quite so dire 16 years ago. Nonetheless, as I watched him dispatch his smoked fish, I asked the legendary one if he was troubled with the state of the industry. He said he was. Emboldened by his bluntness, I was blunt, too.
"Don't you think," I asked, "that the principles you cite with such authority are pretty widely regarded in the industry as the irrelevant ravings of a nattering old fool?"
Mr. Ogilvy smiled.
"That," he replied, "is the nicest way of putting it."
Arrogant, maybe, but honest with himself. How refreshing. So, yes, the man made an impression on me. But it also turns out that I made an impression on him. The day after my story ran in USA Today, quoting the exchange, the newspaper's founder, Al Neuharth, received a curt, direct, three-word telegram from David Ogilvy. It read, in its entirety, as follows: