Famous Last Words: Ogilvy Revealed
I am forever indebted to David Ogilvy. When the galley proofs of my first direct marketing book—“MILLION DOLLAR MAILING$”—came back from the printer, I sent a set to a chum at Ogilvy & Mather, and it was put in the pouch to Château de Touffou, Ogilvy’s 13th-century mansion, outside of Poitiers, France. Several weeks later, I received a letter from Ogilvy on Touffou stationery praising the book. His lead:
This remarkable book has inspired me to revive my life-long crusade to extricate the direct mail fraternity from the ghetto to which they have always been confined by the advertising generalists. It gives me valuable ammunition—some new, some old.
I told the publisher to plaster the letter—full-size—on the back cover of the book. For a startup author, it doesn’t get any better than that.
For David Ogilvy, direct marketing was his passion from a very early age. As he wrote in “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.
Ogilvy was thrown out of Oxford in 1931 and in the depth of the Depression landed a job as a lowly cook in one of the best hotel restaurants in the world, the Majestic in Paris. After working his way up to world-class chef, he left to sell Aga Cookers—upmarket stoves that were found in the great hotel kitchens and private homes of the rich. He got a job in advertising and moved to the U.S., where he got to know the giants of advertising—John Caples, Claude Hopkins, Leo Burnett, Rosser Reeves and Bill Bernbach, to name a few.
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 email@example.com.