Feature: David Ogilvy – They Knew Him

Inspired by his ads, his rhetoric and his legend, an industry reflects on the work of a visionary writer
David Ogilvy once asked, “If you can’t advertise yourself, what hope do you have in being able to advertise anything else?” In his 88 years, Ogilvy wrote numerous tomes about our industry, required reading for any student of advertising. From Confessions of an Advertising Man and Ogilvy on Advertising came chestnuts such as, “The consumer is not a moron; she is your wife.”
The Ogilvy gospel coached generations of talent on the dos and don’ts of making ads and running agencies. He was a clever businessman and a superb salesman. To a business that relied on intangibles, he provided a set of systems and codes. His work helped spur the creative revolution of the ’60s, and it laid the foundations for today’s advertising.
While Ogilvy never failed to emphasize sell, sell, sell, his branding techniques favored an emotional approach. He introduced brands with eccentric personalities, such as the eye-patch-wearing Hathaway Man and whiskered Commander Whitehead for Schweppes, memorable faces that helped make memorable brands. He often employed long copy and bold headlines.
His 1958 ad for Rolls-Royce, boasting, “At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock,” is considered one of the best car ads in history. TV gave Ogilvy additional tools: actors and VOs to say the product name, titles to spell it out and jingles to drive it home.
“He was a master of the icon,” says BBDO’s Phil Dusenberry. “Today, he could well have come up with the [Taco Bell] Chihuahua.” –Eleftheria Parpis
Jeff Goodby: Co-chairman, co-creative director, Goodby, Silverstein & Partners
“When I was a copywriter at O&M in 1980, David Ogilvy came out to visit San Francisco. I got up the nerve to go to the office he was using to make calls. I poked my head in the door and introduced myself. He told me to sit down and [proceeded] to talk to me for pretty much the next hour. He was also bumming cigarettes off me–I smoked at the time. We talked about all kinds of things, including the work I was doing for the Oakland A’s. Later, when we founded Goodby, Berlin & Silverstein, we enshrined one of the cigarettes he had smoked and hung it on the wall in our office. The plaque read, “Cigarette butt actually smoked by David Ogilvy. June 23, 1980.” A few years later, I saw David Ogilvy in Venice, Italy. I went up to him and said hello, expecting him not to remember me. He said, “You did that wonderful campaign for the baseball team!” Well, I thought that was pretty cool. “
Rick Boyko: President, chief creative officer, Ogilvy & Mather
“We were asked to put together a film for him for his 85th birthday. Looking back at all these things he had done left me in awe–the things he had written, the things he put down. They are all still relevant and timely. I really got to talk to him when we showed him this film [at his home in France], and I got to sit next to him during dinner. We spoke for an hour and a half, and he was still remarkable at 85. He had a certain charisma and a sparkle in his eye. That’s what I remember most: a sparkle in his eye, as if he were still a kid. There was still a bit of mischief there.”
Jerry Della Femina: CEO, chairman, creative director, Della Femina/Jeary and Partners
“The thing I remember most about him was that he was an incredibly powerful and engaging speaker. At a 4A’s event at the Greenbriar in the 1960s, he was railing about the creative revolution. He got to a point where he said, “I think these young upstarts are blank, blank, blank.” Then he said, “The inmates have taken over the asylum.” He said it so brilliantly and so well that I got up and led the applause. Then I realized he was talking about me. “
Lee Clow: Chairman, chief creative officer, TBWA Worldwide
“He brought legitimacy and credibility to our profession. I’m not sure I sign off on all his rules, but I admired his intellect and professionalism. “
John Hegarty: Chairman, Bartle Bogle Hegarty
“I never met David Ogilvy. Obviously, one is hugely impressed by his achievements, but I’m not sure his creative legacy is as great as some people have made out, [especially] when you compare it to someone like Bill Bernbach. More people use Bernbach’s work as an example of how advertising can capture a consumer’s imagination than Ogilvy’s. Bernbach left a greater creative legacy. “
Helayne Spivak: Former worldwide creative director, J. Walter Thompson
“When I met him, the man was a giant in advertising and he was also physically a giant. I didn’t realize he was that imposing a figure. For someone who once said humor has no place in advertising–we’re not clowns–he was hilarious. When I saw him, he started off a speech with a fart joke.”
Mike Hughes: President, creative director, The Martin Agency
“I collect advertising, and Ogilvy once sent me one of his Rolls-Royce ads, signing it, “Isn’t a creative director the hardest job in the world?” I know I feel that way sometimes, and it was good to see even David Ogilvy felt the same way. I was at a conference with him in Vienna once, about 10 years ago. He and I and Jeff Goodby and Tom McElligott were all there, and Ogilvy in his curmudgeonly way was all over us because he suspected we were award chasers–and he was taking umbrage at that. It was kind of cool to see this guy who had been retired for some years still want to do what was right for the clients.”
Lee Garfinkel: Chairman, chief creative officer, Lowe & Partners/SMS
“There were definite lessons in Confessions of an Advertising Man. You decide for yourself which ones you want to break, and which ones you want to follow. It was definitely a good starting ground. His smartest ad was [his clock ad for] Rolls-Royce. It was always in the back of my head as I worked on car accounts. “
Bill Westbrook: President of international, Fallon McElligott
“His work was fabulous. It was of a time. It was greatly crafted, but I liked him for more than the work. I thought he was principled. The thing I will always remember from his book is a description of a meeting with a new business prospect. There were quite a few people in the room and there was a bell on the table in front of the chairman. They told David they would give him a certain amount of time, and then the chairman would ring the bell. David asked how many people would be approving the work, and the client said, “All of them.” He said, “Ring the bell.” I never forgot that courage, never. You just don’t see that kind of courage displayed in advertising much. He became a father figure to creative people who would go on to become advertising people. He isn’t a guy I think about every day; he isn’t a guy I quote often in speeches, but his is the only book on advertising on my office bookshelf. “
David Lubars: President, creative director, Fallon McElligott
“His books had the biggest influence on me. Even if I didn’t agree with what he was saying, the writing was so persuasive and logical and well thought-out. The biggest thing was how he wrote them; one good argument follows another. To me, any writer should read the books to see how to write. As far as advertising goes, those arguments [Ogilvy] made with wit and humanity were so smart. They blew me away. “
Arthur Bijur: President, executive creative director, Cliff Freeman and Partners
“He was really the first to articulate some of the basic tenets of advertising, and he’s the only one who did it in a way that was read by people beyond the advertising community. He brought an elegance to the business and an intelligence and a structure. He elevated it, and gave it panache.”
Phil Dusenberry: Chairman, BBDO
“He and Bill Bernbach had more impact and influence on creative people than anyone else in this industry. Even if you didn’t know [Ogilvy], if you were in the business, you felt that you did. You followed his philosophies and learned a lot about him as an individual through his work, his reputation, his lectures and his books. We all went to school on Ogilvy.”
–compiled from staff reports