Reminiscences of David Ogilvy

By employee, protégé and later partner, Drayton Bird 

Drayton Bird is a brilliant, bald, bodacious Brit. My opinion: He is the savviest direct marketer on the planet today.

No surprise, as Drayton comes well credentialed. His boss, mentor and later partner was David Ogilvy, one of the three 20th century direct marketing colossi (with Claude Hopkins and John Caples).

David Ogilvy (1911-1999) adored direct marketing from his earliest days in business. As he wrote in his masterpiece, “Ogilvy on Advertising”:

One day a man walked into a London agency and asked to see the boss. He had bought a country house and was about to open it as a hotel. Could the agency help him to get customers? He had $500 to spend. Not surprisingly, the head of the agency turned him over to the office boy, who happened to be the author of this book. I invested his money in penny postcards and mailed them to well-heeled people living in the neighborhood. Six weeks later the hotel opened to a full house. I had tasted blood.

Drayton—a colleague in David Ogilvy’s last years—is a living encyclopedia of direct marketing know-how and Ogilvyana. Bird travels the world taking good care of clients and dispensing eight decades of wisdom to anyone that will stump up the fee (or a lunch tab). Last year, I told Drayton if he would jot down some memories of David Ogilvy, not only would I be thrilled, but also so would my readers.

To my delight—and yours—Drayton obliged.

Drayton Bird on David Ogilvy
I regret that I only got to know him when he was quite old, but I was damn lucky to get to know him at all. Even luckier that for some reason he took a shine to me.

As he loved making lists, I thought I would list the chief characteristics I noticed from my time with him to convey how, fascinating, contradictory and unusual he was.

Denny Hatch is the author of six books on marketing and four novels, and is a direct marketing writer, designer and consultant. His latest book is “Write Everything Right!” Visit him at dennyhatch.com.
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Comments
  • Ben Gay

    Loved and learned from it all, Denny. Thank you!
    But my favorite part came early on with your hotel/postcard story and "I had tasted blood."

  • jkattt

    Thanks for this, Denny! As a short-term O&M employee (in Dallas) during the mid-1980s, my favorite D.O. tale = allegedly, after hours, he would answer the telephone with the greeting, "This is Ogilvy. Mather’s dead."

  • Rod Fowler

    Still another reason I never miss one of your posts.

  • Bill

    A delightful article, absolutely delightful!

    Of course, any time one can draw together Denny Hatch, Claude Hopkins, John Caples, David Ogilvy, and Drayton Bird in the same article you’ve got my full attention.

    I used to teach courses in Advertising Copywriting, Direct Marketing, and History of Advertising at a nearby university. My chosen textbook for all three was Ogilvy On Advertising. That book never failed to blow the minds of students seeking to know How To Do It Right. I still pick it up and am astounded by the sheer brilliance of Ogilvy and his remarkable gift for copywriting. (Ogilvy strikes me the same way that Rod Serling does. When Serling spits out his ironic, poignant episode introductions or wrap-ups — especially for eps like "Walking Distance" — my mouth drops open and I shake my head in awe. Ogilvy’s copy also does that to me.)

    This 12-point list of Ogilvy’s behind-the-scenes personality traits was indelibly engrossing. I’m passing this along to other lifelong students of Ogilvy who want to know more about one of the world’s best wordsmiths.

    Thank you for sharing this, Denny. It made my day.

  • Peter Hochstein

    David’s bad manners in restaurants was a compulsion with him. There are numerous stories of him misbehaving in very upscale establishments. The guys who worked at Ogilvy/Houston once told this one:

    David was visiting town. They took him to the classiest French restaurant in the city, nervously warning the staff to please defer at every occasion to Mr. Ogilvy, while they silently prayed he wouldn’t do something outlandish. The dinner went very well. Then desert came. David tasted the creme brulee, then turned to the waiter and said softly, "Would you please send out the chef."

    A palable air of excitement ran through the restaurant. David, himself a former sous chef at the Crillon in Paris, was liking his desert so well, they thought, he was going to pay the chef a compliment. The chef, fully toqued, appeared at the table.

    David turned to him, glared, and asked, "Tell me, did you make this creme brulee with jello or My-T-Fine Pudding?"

  • Bob Bly

    I LOVE this Drayton Bird list from Denny Hatch, both of whom I know and respect as true pros of direct marketing.

  • Peter Rosenwald

    Denny,

    Draton is certainly good copy and the piece is interesting and enlightening.

    But when in your introduction, you mention the three ‘colossi’, I must take issue with you. Lester Wunderman certainly belongs up there on that list of direct marketing greats. In his nineties, he still goes to the office every day and continually takes direct marketing to new heights.

  • Sven

    I have read at least 100 e-mails, looked at the world news in two languages and this is so far the best reading of the day, thanks,

  • phil

    Great stuff, I’ve known Drayton for a long time and he writes the same way he speaks. Directly. strange that . . .