The Unpublished David Ogilvy

David Ogilvy isn’t unpublished at all is he? His book Ogilvy on Advertising should be required reading for business owners, even today.

Ogilvy is one of the acclaimed Marketing Hall of Fame. In 1982 Jean Louis Servan-Scheibrieber’s magazine, ‘Expansion’, devoted to the Industrial Revolution listed 30 men who had contributed to it. Ogilvy was on it. Other notables were: Thomas Eddison, Albert Einstein, John Maynard Keynes, Alfred Krupp, Lenin, Karl Marx, Louis Pasteur, James de Rothschild, Adam Smith and Thomas Watson Jnr.

The Unpublished David Ogilvy is a lesser known work Edited by Joel Raphaelson, for the occasion of David Ogilvy’s 75th birthday. It contains lots of his aphorisms, and provides anecdotes and examples of a leadership style that took Ogilvy and Mather from modest beginnings the being a leading advertising agency.

David Ogilvy's Trumpeter_SwansWhether it’s good to be placed among this pantheon is debatable, but certainly many copywriters hold that David Ogilvy is not only one of their number, but was also, in his day, the Pope. But where would he stand today?

Ogilvy was far more than a Madison Avenue type, although he did found an advertising agency that is located there as well as today in most corners of the globe.

He was a college drop-out, (Oxford); a gourmet chef, (Paris), a door to door salesman, (Aga); a researcher, (Gallup); Intelligence Officer, (British); copywriter, (sometimes moonlighting); and the founder of Ogilvy, Benson, and Mather.

His real strength, to my mind, is as someone who recognized how important it is employ and work with those who are more talented than you. The danger of this approach, as so many small business people and paranoid executives know, is that it’s possible that you will be usurped by someone whom you have hired. This happened to Steve Jobs during his first tenure at Apple when Jobs lured John Sculley away from Pepsi-Cola to serve as Apple’s CEO.

The Apple Board subsequently told Sculley to limit Job’s influence and in a heated boardroom discussion Jobs was outed. Of course he came back in 1996 and the rest is history.

You must have ‘balls’ to hire people with greater talent, and you probably have to be ruthless sometimes  too. Running a business, even a small one, is no job for the timid, or people who have their values mixed up. Indeed to have soft, or purely self-interested values is to court business disaster.

Ogilvy is famous for writing an advertisement for Rolls Royce with the headline ‘At 60 Miles Per Hour The Loudest Noise In This New Rolls Royce Comes From The Electric Clock’. Ogilvy admitted that the line was gleaned from reading both the technical manual and also an article written nearly twenty years previously in a motoring journal.

This is an example of the writer doing his homework. He knew he needed to emphasize something exceptional about the product.

My favorite David Ogilvy advertisement is reproduced above. To my mind it sums up his business philosophy. Ogilvy included his home address, and also signed the advertisement.

‘Trumpeter Swans’ differs from the previous example, for the Rolls Royce, because it’s not about research but instead recalling something read off-topic, and then adding the concept with his customer’s, (in this case his own agency), requirements in order to create an unusual combination in words. Photographer and art director Henry Wolf  frequently did something similar graphically.

Ogilvy was wise enough to appreciate that talent and a university education are not always synonymous. One gifted applicant, who was also a graduate, started a letter of introduction when applying for employment like this.

My father was in charge of the men’s lavatory at the Ritz Hotel. My mother was a chambermaid at the same hotel. I was educated at the London School of Economics.

Ray Taylor,
former Ogilvy and Mather copywriter.

What I like about Ogilvy’s ‘Trumpeter Swan’ advertisement is that it expresses exactly the kind of person who should apply, but in very few words. It causes people who are thinking of applying to examine themselves, and to peacefully disqualify themselves if they can’t meet the required standard. It does this without being cold, or unfriendly in any way, indeed any member of the public coming by chance upon the advertisement would think Ogilvy & Mather a congenial place in which to work.

The main headline is original. The lead in is the word ‘Wanted’, which is a proven attention grabber, and then our attention jumps over the name of the agency to the words ‘Trumpeter Swans’ in large block text. ‘Wanted’ and ‘Trumpeter Swans’ together form an unusual combination designed to pique our curiosity thus those with appropriate levels of awareness to consider applying for the post of copywriter.

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