Forty years of Ogilvy study, from his principles to his foibles, has deposited a vast hodgepodge of impressions. Among them:
* His kindness. I was in his office one day in the late '50s when he was talking about the profit-sharing plan he had just put into effect. The company was billing something like $25 million. It was not highly profitable, and much of what went into the plan would otherwise have gone into David's pocket. Few agency founders in such a situation had instituted such a plan.
He told me why he'd done it: "I don't want Dave Margaretten ever to have to worry about where his next meal is coming from." Mr. Margaretten, the beloved head of our traffic department, was the only one in the company anywhere near retirement.
* His sense of duty. The old Irving Berlin song goes, "Be careful, it's my heart." The song David sang to us, over and over, went "Be careful -- it's their money."
Most advertising people pay lip service to prudent spending of client money. David feels it in his bones. Soon after I arrived at the agency he sent a note to the staff stating that many television commercials cost $25,000, "more than an average family pays for its house!"
We got the same message, figures updated for inflation, about once a year. But his sense of responsibility to his clients was a daily affair, expressed in many ways. He never let us forget what our job was and where our rent came from.
* His stinginess with praise. I worked closely with David on many projects over four decades. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I got anything that might be called praise. Because they were so rare I remember every one of them, word for word. They were high points, heady morale boosters that meant more to me than any increase in pay. (Fortunately for my family, I got a raise more often than praise.)
* His seldom-noticed left brain. David's celebrity derives in part from his unwavering devotion to "advertising that sells" and to his so-called "rules" governing what sells and what does not. As a result he is thought of as rigidly rational, the ultimate left brain standing in opposition to the right-brain advocates of "emotion." I found out otherwise on many occasions, the first of them a week after I went to work for him.
He had ordered me to write an "immortal" advertisement for children's clothes made of Viyella, a British blend of cotton and wool. Being fresh from BBDO where I wrote ads selling Du Pont textile fibers, I knew something about fabrics for children's clothes. "Why," I asked David, "should mothers buy their children clothes made of Viyella when nowadays they can get clothes made of Orlon that are just as soft, just as washable, wear just as well -- and cost half as much?"
His answer: "Lamb's wool. Women are very emotional about lamb's wool. And SNOBBERY!"
That from the supposed left-brained champion of the rational sales message. And I doubt that the Hathaway eye patch sprang from the left side of the Ogilvy brain.
* His capacity for work. Most of us in advertising think we work hard, and some of us actually do, but I doubt that anybody ever worked as hard as David. Once I'd heard he'd left 156 items on his secretary's desk on a Monday morning -- 156 different pieces of weekend work. Some were just marginal notes, others fully drafted papers.
* His taste for the outrageous. In June 1995 David and his wife, Herta, invited a few former colleagues to Touffou, his home in France, for a weekend celebration of his 84th birthday. We assembled in the living room, gifts and birthday speeches in hand. There were 19 of us, eight connected with the agency and the rest family.
Finally the birthday boy appeared, respendent in a double-breasted blue blazer with a huge silk handkerchief flopping out of the breast pocket. All eyes went to him, and he addressed the expectant group: "If anybody sings that dreadful song I shall leave the room!"
David's taste for the outrageous is one aspect of an uncanny ability to transform the mundane into something that sticks in the mind. The feat was often accomplished in a word or two. One day he took me with him to meet a prominent theatrical producer on some extracurricular business matter. David introduced us: "How do you do? My name is David Ogilvy and this is my partner Joel Raphaelson. We are advertising agents."
Never before (or since) had I heard myself called an agent. That single word left a permanent impression, sharpening my understanding of my obligation to my clients.
* His attachment to Grape Nuts. On a weeklong visit to Chicago, David came to dinner in our apartment three times. At one of the dinners, for eight or 10 people, my wife Marikay served a lamb dish. Not in his kindest mood, David complained about the amount of rich food Americans put out for dinner, declaring that the ideal dinner would be Grape Nuts cereal -- "nourishing, doesn't leave you feeling stuffed, easy to digest."
Two nights later at an impromptu supper in our kitchen before a concert, Marikay set plates of the best smoked Scottish salmon before all of us except David. He got a bowl of Grape Nuts. He wolfed it down without comment.
A week later a postcard arrived: Dearest Marikay: Never before in my longish life has anyone else invited me to dinner three times in one week. Each dinner was better than the last, culminating in your triumphant Grape Nuts. . ."
Just a bread-and-butter note, but it stands out in my memory. How fitting that recently, the company that David founded was awarded the Grape Nuts account.
Joel Raphaelson retired in 1995 after 37 years at Ogilvy & Mather. For his last 10 years at the agency, he was senior VP-international creative services for Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide.