David Mackenzie Ogilvy, CBE, (June 23, 1911–July 21, 1999), was an advertising executive. Is popularly known as “The Father of Advertising.” Time magazine called him “the most sought-after wizard in today’s advertising industry,” in 1962.
After just a few months in advertising, Ogilvy took the discipline in a whole new direction. A man walked into Ogilvy’s London agency wanting to advertise the opening of his hotel. Since he had just $500 he was turned to the novice, David Ogilvy. Ogilvy bought $500 worth of postcards and sent invitations to everybody he found in the local telephone directory. The hotel opened with a full house. “I had tasted blood”, says Ogilvy in his Confessions.
This is also the incident leading him to understanding the importance of direct advertising, his “Secret Weapon” as he says in Ogilvy on Advertising.
His book Ogilvy on Advertising is a general commentary on advertising and not all the ads shown in the book are his. In early 2004, Adweek magazine asked people in the business “Which individuals – alive or dead – made you consider pursuing a career in advertising?” and Ogilvy topped the list. The same result came when students of advertising were surveyed. His best-selling book Confessions of an Advertising Man (ISBN 1-904915-01-9) is one of the most popular and famous books on advertising.
Ogilvy’s advertising mantra followed these four basic principles,
- Research: coming, as he did, from a background in research, he never underestimated its importance in advertising. In fact, in 1952, when he opened his own agency, he billed himself as research director.
- Professional discipline: “I prefer the discipline of knowledge to the anarchy of ignorance.” He codified knowledge into slide and film presentations he called Magic Lanterns. He also instituted several training programs for young advertising professionals.
- Creative brilliance: had a strong emphasis on the “BIG IDEA.”
- Results for clients: “In the modern world of business, it is useless to be a creative, original thinker unless you can also sell what you create.”
It’s fascinating to note Ogilvy’s letter below, written in 1955 to a Mr. Ray Calt. This letter offers an opportunity to learn of his routine when producing the very ads that made his name. I believe it to be an invaluable opportunity. Enjoy…
April 19, 1955
Dear Mr. Calt:
On March 22nd you wrote to me asking for some notes on my work habits as a copywriter. They are appalling, as you are about to see:
1. I have never written an advertisement in the office. Too many interruptions. I do all my writing at home.
2. I spend a long time studying the precedents. I look at every advertisement which has appeared for competing products during the past 20 years.
3. I am helpless without research material—and the more “motivational” the better.
4. I write out a definition of the problem and a statement of the purpose which I wish the campaign to achieve. Then I go no further until the statement and its principles have been accepted by the client.
5. Before actually writing the copy, I write down every concievable fact and selling idea. Then I get them organized and relate them to research and the copy platform.
6. Then I write the headline. As a matter of fact I try to write 20 alternative headlines for every advertisement. And I never select the final headline without asking the opinion of other people in the agency. In some cases I seek the help of the research department and get them to do a split-run on a battery of headlines.
7. At this point I can no longer postpone the actual copy. So I go home and sit down at my desk. I find myself entirely without ideas. I get bad-tempered. If my wife comes into the room I growl at her. (This has gotten worse since I gave up smoking.)
8. I am terrified of producing a lousy advertisement. This causes me to throw away the first 20 attempts.
9. If all else fails, I drink half a bottle of rum and play a Handel oratorio on the gramophone. This generally produces an uncontrollable gush of copy.
10. The next morning I get up early and edit the gush.
11. Then I take the train to New York and my secretary types a draft. (I cannot type, which is very inconvenient.)
12. I am a lousy copywriter, but I am a good editor. So I go to work editing my own draft. After four or five editings, it looks good enough to show to the client. If the client changes the copy, I get angry—because I took a lot of trouble writing it, and what I wrote I wrote on purpose.
Altogether it is a slow and laborious business. I understand that some copywriters have much greater facility.
Wasn’t that utterly grand?!