Past Perfect

Considering the highlights of David Ogilvy's revolutionary work in context

Edmund Whitehead (from Schweppes ads), Ogilvy, and George Wrangell (from Hathaway ads) | Image Courtesy Ogilvy Archives


David Ogilvy is the most familiar brand name in advertising. His fame lives on in the name of a global company, on the dust-jackets of two books worth reading (and one not worth reading), and in dozens of querulous quotes.

On the centennial of his birth, we will be told how revolutionary his work was for its time. Today we see his advertisements only as artifacts, set off by white borders, accompanied by captions telling us the ads are even better than we think they are. But how are we to judge?

Let’s saddle stitch Ogilvy’s work back into the original context and try to see his ads the way some of his first audiences would have seen them: in the pages of The New Yorker magazine of the 1950s. For a reader, it requires a certain trick of mind erasure to see the ads fresh and not be influenced by their later fame.

Explore select The New Yorker ads on the following pages, along with Simpson's reactions to them.

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