David Ogilvy, who died this week, was the last of the world’s
advertising titans. A true visionary, intellectual and inspiration for
generations of ad people, he is one of the few figures entitled to sit
alongside the likes of Bill Bernbach, Leo Burnett, Ted Bates and Ray
Rubicam in the pantheon of industry architects.
Long before the Saatchi brothers invaded the US, Ogilvy had been there
and done it. Long before advertising became a disciplined and
accountable business, Ogilvy understood the importance of scientific
data and research.
As he said in Ogilvy on Advertising (required reading for any aspirant
agency staffer): ’I do not regard advertising as entertainment or an art
form, but as a medium of information.’
His experiences honed in the pragmatic world of US advertising bred in
him an undisguised loathing for eccentric creatives with an inflated
sense of their own importance and contempt for research. And, even if
his views could appear to be those of the most frightful snob, his
civilised and genteel manner more than compensated.
Indeed, although Ogilvy cut his teeth on Madison Avenue, his style was
altogether less aggressive than his great US contemporary, Rosser Reeves
- known as ’the blacksmith’ for the way he hammered home his
Ogilvy was no less pragmatic than Reeves but much less what would now be
called ’in your face’.
He believed that every ad was part of a long-term investment in the
Hence such memorable milestones as the ’Man in the Hathaway Shirt’ with
his trademark black eyepatch. Why the eyepatch? Simply because of a
research director’s observation that pictures with ’story appeal’
grabbed the attention like nothing else.
Ogilvy’s intellectual but pragmatic approach to life was the by-product
of an upbringing that was intellectually rich but cash poor. The son of
a classical scholar and Cambridge rugby blue, he lived as a boy in Lewis
Carroll’s house in Surrey with a nanny to see him through his childhood,
and a public school education (Fettes) to guide him through
Ogilvy’s rites of passage took place sweating over a hot stove at the
Hotel Majestic in Paris, selling Aga cookers door to door and, after
emigrating to the US in 1938, as a secret service man with the
euphemistic title of second secretary to the British embassy in
He entered advertising from the curious direction of Pennsylvania, where
he had been working as a farmer among the Amish community. He had no
credentials and no clients, just dollars 6,000 in the bank and, at 38,
had never even written an ad.
It’s all a far cry from the Ogilvy & Mather that was bought by Martin
Sorrell’s WPP ten years ago for dollars 864 million. How was it
In his 1997 autobiography, Ogilvy offered this recipe: ’First, make a
reputation for being a creative genius. Second, surround yourself with
partners who are better than you are. Third, leave them to get on with
Perhaps he might have added a few extra ingredients like an eye for the
main chance, iconoclasm and a sprinkling of genius.
1911: Born in West Horsley, Surrey
1931: Cook at the Majestic hotel, Paris
1932: Aga cooker salesman, Edinburgh
1935: Joins Mather & Crowther
1938: On sabbatical from Mather & Crowther, goes to the US to study
1939: Goes to work for George Gallup’s Audience Research Institute at
1942-45: With secret service attached to British Embassy in
1946-48: Farmer in Pennsylvania among the Amish community
1948: Starts what was to become Ogilvy & Mather
1951: Ogilvy devises the man with the eyepatch for Hathaway shirts.
Sales increase 160 per cent
1963: Publishes Confessions of an Advertising Man. Book becomes
1967: Made CBE
1973: Moves to Touffou, a 14th-century castle in France
1975: Retires as O&M chairman. Becomes worldwide creative head
1977: Inducted into American Advertising Federation Hall of Fame
1978: Publishes his autobiography, Blood, Brains and Beer
1983: Ogilvy on Advertising published. Retires as worldwide creative
1989: Ogilvy group acquired by WPP. Named non-executive chairman of
1992: Steps down as WPP chairman. Becomes consultant and chairman
This article was first published on Campaign
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