DAVID OGILVY: THE LAST GIANT - CREATIVE TITAN: LEGENDARY ADMAN REVERED FOR HUMANITY
An agency leader whose work ethic and craftsmanship inspired fierce devotion, David Ogilvy carved new paths to creative heights throughout his legendary 30-year career in advertising.
After effectively retiring in 1973 to Touffou, the 12th century chateau in Bonnes, France, he had bought and restored, Mr. Ogilvy tended to downplay his universal impact on advertising. He even chuckled not long ago when a French magazine named him one of the major forces that shaped the Industrial Revolution. Similarly, he lamented as "a pity," if true, a description of him at an Association of National Advertisers meeting in 1991 as "perhaps the last great figure in the advertising world."
Nevertheless, he remained enormously proud of Ogilvy & Mather, the shop he opened in September 1948 that now ranks as the sixth-largest U.S. agency and a global powerhouse. The WPP Group unit's 1998 worldwide gross income came to $1.1 billion on volume of $9.7 billion.
Mr. Ogilvy's death after a long illness brings to a close the ad industry's post-World War II era of charismatic agency giants, among them Leo Burnett, Fairfax Cone, Bill Bernbach, Don Belding, Ted Bates and Marion Harper Jr.
LONG HOURS AT RESEARCH
David Ogilvy's legacy was built upon his steadfast adherence to a clear, literate and consistent creative approach. In his memos, speeches, books and in conversation he argued the best advertising never came easy, that it was based on long hours spent mastering research, a discipline he acquired some 60 years ago as associate director of George Gallup's Audience Research Institute.
Mr. Ogilvy used to say his agency became an "almost overnight success" because he used research to understand how consumers would react to different stimuli, and because he followed his friend Ray Rubicam's credo: "Advertising has a responsibility to behave."
British-born and educated, he was a disciple of such unalloyed U.S. advertising pioneers as Claude Hopkins, John Caples, Albert Lasker, Leo Burnett and Mr. Rubicam, the mentor he referred to as "my conscience."
Born in "genteel poverty" on June 23, 1911, in the London suburb of West Horsley, David Mackenzie Ogilvy was the fourth of five children. His parents were considered Fabian socialists and "militant agnostics." His mother, Dorothy Fairfield, has been described as "a beautiful and eccentric Irishwoman";his father, Francis John, as a "Gaelic-speaking Highlander, a classical scholar and a bigoted agnostic."
An indifferent student, the shy lad was sent off at age 9 to Dottheboys Hall in Eastbourne. At 13, he entered Fettes in Scotland, then Christ Church College at Oxford at age 18. Upon expulsion in 1931, he explained, "I simply made a botch of it. I was too preoccupied to do any work."
For the next seven years-"uncertain of purpose" but knowing that he would one day head for America, the land of his boyhood role model, Huck Finn-he toiled as a social worker in the Edinburgh slums; journeyed to Paris to work a 65-hour week in the Hotel Majestic's kitchens for all of $7; and at 24 returned to England to take up selling door-to-door the Aga Cooker stove.
In this way, he developed a consumer-oriented, straightforward approach to selling that would later define his career in advertising. After writing a sales brochure for Aga, he went to work at Aga's agency, Mather & Crowther, in London, where his older brother Francis was an account executive. There, David Ogilvy collected samples of American advertising. Mather saw fit to send him to the U.S. in 1938 so he could observe American advertising up close.
CIRCLE OF FRIENDS
In New York, the handsome Brit quickly charmed his way into the literati, a circle then graced by the likes of Alexander Woollcott, Harpo Marx and George S. Kaufman.
On one of his ad agency visits, he met Rosser Reeves, then a "hard-sell" pioneer at Blackett-Sample-Hummert. Mr. Ogilvy struggled to reconcile British "soft sell" with his persuasive new friend's "hard-sell" approach, which he ultimately rejected. Mr. Reeves later became more than a friend; his wife Elizabeth was the sister of Mr. Ogilvy's first wife, Melinda. At one point, Mr. Ogilvy wanted his brother-in-law to join his agency, but ultimately they agreed to disagree; their advertising philosophies were deemed incompatible.
With the outbreak of World War II, David Ogilvy entered Sir William ("Intrepid") Stephenson's British Secret Service, along with Ian Fleming and Roald Dahl, working out of the British Embassy in Washington. He provided U.S. intelligence with numerous reports on Latin American economies and strategic materials.
After the war, the Ogilvys plunked down $23,500 for a 100-acre tobacco farm in Pennsylvania Dutch country, and for nearly three years they worked the fields. He later termed those "the richest years of my life." But that was purely for their spiritual contributions. Financially, the Ogilvys were going broke fast. So the farm was sold, and Mr. Ogilvy returned to New York, where in September 1948 he opened "a British advertising agency." He put up $6,000 to get started. One of his first targets was Wedgwood China and its $40,000 budget. Mr. Ogilvy persuaded Hensleigh Wedgwood to let him buy the company's magazine space so the new agency could get the commission.
Meanwhile in London, Francis Ogilvy persuaded his Mather & Crowley partners to invest in David's company; another friend, Bobby Bevan of S.H. Benson Ltd., also invested, and together the agencies became 90% participants.
Recognizing a need for a more "American" presence, David Ogilvy recruited Anderson (Andy) Hewitt from J. Walter Thompson Co.'s Chicago office to serve as president. Mr. Hewitt would be the salesman half of the team; Mr. Ogilvy, as senior VP-research, would run the creative side. During the ensuing years, Hewitt, Ogilvy, Benson & Mather landed such accounts as Chase Bank, General Foods' Maxwell House, C.F. Hathaway Co., International Paper, Lever Bros., J.P. Morgan & Co., Orient & Pacific Steamship Line, Rolls-Royce and Sunoco. It still serves some of those today.
But he and Mr. Hewitt found themselves clashing over who should run the shop-the big-agency executive or his British partner with the unique creative approach. In March 1953, Mr. Hewitt took his leave, and the agency became Ogilvy, Benson & Mather.
In his "Confessions of an Advertising Man" (Atheneum, 1963), Mr. Ogilvy wrote that Mr. Hewitt went on "to great things at other agencies, unencumbered by an insufferable partner."
BYE TO BRITISH PARTNERS
In 1960, the Benson agency in London sold back its estimated 10% stock interest in Ogilvy, leaving the U.S. shop almost 100% U.S.-owned and -controlled. Mather & Crowther then merged with Ogilvy in October 1964 to create Ogilvy & Mather. Mr. Ogilvy retained 17% of the stock.
Mr. Ogilvy's fresh campaigns went on making advertising history. There was his "eyepatch" ads for Hathaway shirts, with copy that included the word "ineffably." (Mr. Ogilvy, later asked to define the word, failed the test.) And there was his Commander Whitehead campaign for Schweppes, and his immortal "At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock." He created powerful business and tourism development campaigns for the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the British Isles; a Shell Oil print campaign that discussed the gasoline's ingredients; the line "Dove will cream your skin while you wash"; and a service-oriented policy for Sears, Roebuck & Co.
In his autobiography, "Blood, Brains & Beer" (Atheneum, 1978), he wrote that getting clients was for him "like shooting fish in a barrel."
"I doubt whether any copywriter has ever produced so many winners in such a short period," he stated. Later, and more modestly, he said that the "so-called Creative Revolution, usually ascribed to Bill Bernbach and myself in the '50s, could equally have been ascribed to N.W. Ayer and Young & Rubicam in the '30s."
BACK TO CREATIVE
Mr. Ogilvy recruited John "Jock" Elliott from BBDO to serve as senior VP and an executive committee member in 1960, and five years later Mr. Ogilvy named Mr. Elliott chairman-CEO and gave himself the title of creative director-"the heart, liver and lights of advertising," as he saw it.
Still, at age 54 he described himself as "an almost extinct volcano." In March 1966, the $90 million agency joined Madison Avenue's "gotta go public" movement, and Mr. Ogilvy pocketed about $1.4 million by selling 61,000 shares. By then, his first marriage had ended in divorce and he was remarried to Anne Finch Cabot of Boston. O&M's prospectus noted that he was scheduled to retire after April 30, 1981, at age 69. Years later, when Mr. Ogilvy looked back and realized how agencies had to attune themselves to Wall Street analysts' expectations, he said going public was the biggest mistake of his career.
One crusade he approached with more enthusiasm centered on replacing the 15% commission system with a cost-plus fee compensation contract. In 1960, he predicted that within five years all major accounts would be handled on a fee basic. His timetable wasn't met, but clearly, Mr. Ogilvy's vision now prevails.
In another Ogilvy book, "Ogilvy on Advertising" (Crown, 1983), he insisted that he hated rules but would offer hints about the right way to do advertising. The fact, however, was that whether writing hints or rules, he managed to jot down more lists than could be found on any Army supply sergeant's desk. Among them: "Eleven Commandments Which You Must Obey if You Work at My Agency." There was also a list-within-a-list-his "Fifteen Rules Which I Would Obey in Dealing With My Agency if I Became a Client" included "Ten Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Fire Your Agency."
There were also the "Ogilvyisms," among them: "People don't buy from clowns"; "When the housewife fills her shopping basket, she is in a fairly serious frame of mind"; and "You wouldn't tell lies to your own wife. Don't tell them to mine." His most widely quoted line is "The consumer is not a moron. She is your wife. Don't insult her intelligence."
His ideas were not always carved in marble. He once proclaimed, "When your advertisement contains a coupon and you want the maximum returns, put it at the top, bang in the middle." But by 1988, he had joined couponing traditionalists. The top-middle format "isn't true today. Put your coupon bottom right," he conceded.
Mr. Ogilvy was more inflexible as an advocate of fertile inventiveness. "Unless your campaign contains a Big Idea," he wrote, "it will pass like a ship in the night."
How abundant are big ideas? Replied Mr. Ogilvy: "I am supposed to be one of the more fertile inventors of big ideas, but in my long career I have not had more than 20."
A gracious competitor who valued solid creative ideas and praised good work no matter its source, he said, in an Advertising Age interview in 1969: "There are fashions in agencies. I look back with nostalgia to 15 years ago when this agency was enjoying the sort of fashion that Mary Wells now has. It was lovely. We were the talk of the cocktail parties; all the swingers tried to get jobs here. It was lovely-but damned insecure."
He was as proud of his entrepreneurial talents as he was of his writing. He said he looked back fondly "to when I was in full eruption; I was a gusher of ideas; when New Year's Eve came I could say I had six good ideas that year; that was very satisfying. Now I look back at the year and say our agency produced 16 great campaigns in eight countries. And I'm proud I put together such an organization."
A DITCH-DIGGER'S IQ
For all of his presumed erudition, Mr. Ogilvy never considered himself a grammarian. He once pointed out that his IQ was 96, "normal for ditch diggers," and that he read "at a snail's pace." When a controversy raged over the ad slogan "Winston tastes good like a cigarette should," Mr. Ogilvy said only "insufferable pedants" were offended by the line. As he saw it, "If you're trying to persuade people to do something or buy something, it seems to me you should use . . . the language they use every day."
Print was always his creative strength, but he realized "advertising has come to mean TV. . . . There's a race of people today who have never had to write a magazine ad. . . . I see some of these TV commercials and I'm overwhelmed with humility. There are so many people who can do them better than I can. But when it comes to print ads, I feel the opposite is true." He also attacked TV for its overcommercialization and favored cutbacks on commercial minutes.
There were those among his peers who felt his success was owed not so much to his talent but more to his aristocratic good looks, personal charm and uncanny luck. That he was well served by those attributes cannot be disputed. But the reality was-good looks or not-his creative work rang true and clear, and he delivered the goods for his clients.
As for charm, and the so-called charmed life, one anecdote among many that epitomized his legend involves a day in 1966, when Mr. Ogilvy and Jock Elliott, his chairman-CEO, stood together outside their Fifth Avenue office building and debated a weighty question: where to lunch. Mr. Ogilvy felt like walking east to his Brook Club. Mr. Elliott favored the Fifth Avenue Club, atop the Steuben Building. Good idea, said Mr. Ogilvy, and they began walking north. As they approached the club's doors, Mr. Ogilvy's pace quickened and he rushed to greet two gentlemen waiting nearby. "Oh," he shouted, "I'm sorry to be late. A phone call I couldn't avoid. I brought my partner, Jock Elliott, because he's such a great automobile buff and I knew he'd enjoy meeting you."
FAREWELL TO ROLLS
After lunch, Mr. Ogilvy explained to his bewildered partner what that was all about. When he resigned the Rolls-Royce account, Mr. Ogilvy said, he proposed that for old time's sake they must have a farewell lunch. They set a date, which Mr. Ogilvy promptly forgot about. Yet, there he was, serendipitously managing to be at the right place, more or less at the right time.
Like most agency leaders, David Ogilvy craved attention, or, as he put it, the need to "escape from obscurity." To that end, he shamelessly courted the advertising trade press. "Rosser Reeves protested that nobody went to the bathroom at our agency without the news appearing in print," he recalled.
When his "Confessions of an Advertising Man" was published in 1963, it sold a record 600,000 copies, triggered a media buzz and became a must-read for advertising people and business schools around the world. O&M by then was operating 55 offices in 29 countries. Mr. Ogilvy, never anticipating the book's huge success, had assigned his royalties to his son. With his subsequent books, he made sure to retain his royalties, but unfortunately these would fall far short of his first book's sales.
In his pursuit of attention, Mr. Ogilvy would schedule at least two high-profile speeches a year, each carefully staged and crafted for maximum impact. Upon reaching the lectern, the beautifully groomed agency leader would slowly remove his jacket to reveal bright red suspenders. At some point during his talk, he would yank a vestige of his Amish Dutch days, a red bandana, from a pocket and ceremoniously wipe his brow. Even while perspiring, he commanded attention.
STILL IN A HURRY
He befriended researchers, public relations people, management consultants and sales reps because he knew they were in constant contact with potential clients. His new-business activity also included periodic O&M "progress reports," sent to about 600 people. Explaining his zeal for promotion, he wrote, "If I had behaved in a more professional way, it would have taken me 20 years to arrive. I had neither the time nor the money to wait. I was poor, unknown and in a hurry." The strategy obviously worked. By 1970, the "extinct volcano" was still working 57-hour weeks.
By the '80s, Mr. Ogilvy-by then married to his third wife, Herta Lans, who survives him-had installed a fax machine in his chateau to keep in touch with his associates in New York and elsewhere. But as O&M's margins narrowed to 4% in 1989, Martin Sorrell, builder of the WPP Group and earlier a Saatchi & Saatchi rainmaker, zeroed in. Two years earlier he had acquired J. Walter Thompson Co. Now he saw O&M as ripe for plucking.
Mr. Ogilvy, irritated by WPP's unwelcome approach, titillated Madison Avenue by calling Mr. Sorrell "an odious little shit." Mr. Sorrell, undeterred, asked Mr. Ogilvy to dinner. Ever the gentleman, and realizing that he had spoken harshly about someone he had never met, Mr. Ogilvy sat down with Mr. Sorrell and came away with a new friend. He also got a new title, chairman of WPP Group, a $13.5 billion global communications group that would include O&M. The agency was sold for $864 million, or $54 per share.
David Ogilvy quietly returned to France to live out his life, his legend intact as one of the most widely known creative gods in advertising history, a role model for advertising practitioners who admired his "high road" creative work. Among the honors bestowed upon him in 1972 was the American Marketing Association's prestigious Parlin Award for Marketing, and election to the Copywriters Hall of Fame. He entered the Advertising Hall of Fame in 1977. Advertising Age earlier this year placed him fourth on a list of the 100 most influential people in advertising in the 20th Century.
As he met with success after success, David Ogilvy endeavored to remain focused on the creative product. Ultimately, the "business side" demanded most of his time and he came up with another classic Ogilvyism: "If you're good at creating, then for goodness sake don't waste your time in top management. I made that