Famous Last Words: Ogilvy Revealed
An Inside Look
“The King of Madison Avenue” by Kenneth Roman (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009) is a splendid new biography of Ogilvy. Roman spent 26 years at the agency, working his way up from account executive to chairman and CEO. The book captures all the fascinating facets of this brilliant, funny, outrageous, peripatetic advertising grandee—Ogilvy’s creative wizardry; his eccentricities (he hated flying and would spend days traveling in overnight trains); his boundless energy; and the 30 to 50 wonderfully literate memos and letters that he fired off every day of his life to staff, directors, friends and colleagues across the country and around the world.
The stories include how he built his agency, developed his philosophy of advertising, acquired blue ribbon clients, fought the powers within who wanted to acquire other agencies, tried to fight off being acquired himself by Martin Sorrell (whom he called an “odious little shit”) and finally retired in his 60s, only to be called back repeatedly to jump in and save the agency’s bacon time and time again. Of great value to anyone in the field are the tales of how Ogilvy got worldwide recognition for such diverse, little-known products as Hathaway shirts, Schweppes, Puerto Rico and Dove soap, and turned them into corporate powerhouses.
My favorite story was that of the executive in an adjoining office from whose cigar humidor Ogilvy regularly pilfered. Finally in desperation, the executive left a note in it: “David, if you like these cigars, don’t steal them. I’ll buy you a box.” The next day he found a note in Ogilvy’s handwriting:
It wasn’t me.—David
Denny Hatch is a freelance direct marketing consultant and copywriter, and author of the online newsletter, Denny Hatch’s Business Common Sense. Visit him at www.businesscommonsense.com or www.dennyhatch.com, or contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.