Alex Constantine - May 31, 2009
" ... The author ... had been a cook, a spy, an Oxford dropout, savior of 'Masterpiece Theatre' and chairman of the United Negro College Fund. ... "
By Richard Pachter
For anyone serious about the craft of advertising, several books are essential. Confessions of an Advertising Man and Ogilvy on Advertising have permanent places in my own ever-shifting library. The author of both volumes had been a cook, a spy, an Oxford dropout, savior of Masterpiece Theatre and chairman of the United Negro College Fund. He grew up in England (and considered himself a Scot), made his name and fortune in the United States, but never became a citizen (although the head of the CIA offered to make it happen).
When David Ogilvy, the most famous advertising man of his era, died, it merited front-page notice in The New York Times. He introduced the eye-patched Man in the Hathaway Shirt and Schweppes' Commander Whitehead (and "Schweppervesence"). He turned Dove ("one-quarter cleansing cream") into a powerhouse brand, catapulted American Express from a charge card for travelers into a multifaceted worldwide brand and established one of the most successful advertising agencies in the world. He's also credited with creating a "corporate culture" decades before the term was coined.
Ogilvy grew up poor, got into Oxford on a special scholarship — his grades had been poor, but his intellect and audacity impressed the school — before illness and other distractions kept him from fulfilling his academic requirements. He'd tried several jobs until his older brother, a successful adman, lent a hand. After a bit of success borne less of talent and more of audacity and tenacity, young David emigrated to America (in steerage), got a job with research company Gallup and within a few years opened an American outpost of his brother's firm. His early success revolutionized the industry, although he later acknowledged the huge debt he owed to other, less publicized predecessors.
Kenneth Roman's very readable biography presents an expansive and entertaining portrait, offering insights into the life and times. Advertising had held a different place in culture and commerce before the emergence of Ogilvy, whose career ran parallel to the rise of the great agencies and their eventual consolidation into a handful of multinational corporate entities.
Roman, a former chairman and CEO of Ogilvy & Mather, the agency his subject founded, is also the author of two how-to books on advertising, but his well-researched and insightful life story required different skills, and Roman rose to the occasion. Using Ogilvy's own books, quotes, other writings and reminiscences, copious interviews with friends, family, colleagues and competitors, Roman does a masterful job of conveying Ogilvy's colorful personality.
It's far from a fawning tale; the author incisively compares his work and influence with predecessors and peers such as Bill Bernbach, Rosser Reeves and others. Ogilvy often comes up short and vacillated between adoration and disdain of many of his fellow admen during his lifetime.
The only knock on this book is that it isn't loaded with examples of Ogilvy's work, although a little digging online and in other books may suffice. Regardless, Roman does his old boss proud.
" ... Tthere is evidence that total destruction of Germany was never part of the plan by the hidden powers. In May 1945, only a few days after the surrender of Germany a small group around William Stephenson, better known by his code name Intrepid formed a new company called British American Canadian Corporation S.A. This new corporation was based in New York but registered in Panama. On April 2, 1947, this corporation changed its name to World Commerce Corporation. The most remarkable aspect of this corporation was that with one exception all of its directors and almost everyone associated with it had connections with British or American intelligence.
"All officers of the corporation were members of either the OSS or of Intrepid’s network. Included in the list of officers was Sir Charles Hambro, George Muhle Merten, David Ogilvy, John Arthur Reid Pepper. The officers selected at the formation were Pepper, president, Ogilvy and Merten as vice presidents and Thomas William Hill, who gave his title as Intrepid’s British Security Coordination in New York City.
"Donovan apparently was not involved with either corporation until he became a director On October 23, 1947, at the same time Edward Stettinius, former secretary of state, joined. Stettinius had a considerable financial holding in the corporation. However, Donovan’s law firm acted as legal advisers from the beginning. Among the legal advisers was Otto Doering.
"Soon World Commerce Corporation (WCC) attracted a number of other prominent intelligence operatives to join as directors, officers or stockholders. Included in this group was Russell Forgan, Lester Armour, Sydney Weinberg, W.K. Eliscu, Lt Col Rex Benson and several others connected with the Canadian intelligence service. Others included Nelson Rockefeller, former head of the agency in charge of South America intelligence. John McCloy, former under secretary of war also came on board as did Richard Mellon and Sir Victor Sassoon. When Frank Ryan took over as president, Stephenson provided him with connections to a group of men prominent in government, intelligence and finance. The WCC contact in Greece was a former member of the Greek and British intelligence services. In Thailand the WCC’s contact person was a former OSS agent. In short almost all members of the WCC and its contacts were formerly connect with the intelligence services during the war. Yet this remarkable company even with the backing to the world’s financial elite would last only fifteen years. In 1962 the WCC was liquidated for tax reasons. ... "
" ... Alexandre de Marenches, head of the French secret service during the presidencies of Pompidou and Giscard d'Estaing ... recalls tidbits of advice that he offered various heads of state ('Your Majesty,' he told the Shah of Iran, 'your image is terrible,' and then sent for advertising ace David Ogilvy to tutor the monarch). ... "
Other Reviews of King of Madison Avenue: David Ogilvy and the Making of Modern Advertising
Ad Age:... Early chapters of the book recall much of the classic pre-Ogilvy Ogilvy mythology that has floated around for almost a century, from his Celtic heritage to his stints in the British secret service and as a chef at the Hotel Majestic in Paris.
When the agency opens, so begins the unofficial Anecdotal Guide to David Ogilvy -- for, as Mr. Roman points out, everyone has a David story. The collection here is no less comprehensive. There's David picking up eye patches on a whim en route to the Hathaway shoot. There he is admonishing copywriters from his Rolls Royce, or charming the Amish at his farm in Lancaster, Pa. Or coining the "one-quarter cleansing cream" copy that Dove would use for decades. Or buying a castle in France. And on and on. ...
What's missing is a more critical analysis of his work, how it touched the masses and its lasting importance. One could argue this might make the book less accessible to the public, but let's be honest: The public cares a lot less about the inner workings of adland than we wish they did, "Mad Men" notwithstanding.
Lancaster Intelligencer Journal
Madison Ave. runs through Amish country
New book details former ad guru’s connection to county
Well before TV ad men pitched melancholy cavemen, loquacious lizards and touchdown-making monarchs, David Ogilvy ruled Madison Avenue.
A global icon and self-described flamboyant Scotsman, the late Ogilvy is credited as the father of brand marketing.
A new book released last month by Ken Roman ... goes beyond Ogilvy's advertising genius to explore his implausible relationships with the local Amish community and Lancaster County's social elite during the mid-1940s.
Ogilvy, who died in 1999 at the age of 88, "was not much of a farmer," Roman said. "But he loved his farm and the Amish people and their simple ways." Roman said Ogilvy, in his autobiography, spoke of being welcomed by the Amish community and wrote that "visiting the Amish is like visiting a very large rural monastery."
But Ogilvy also described a bit of culture shock at his first Amish party:
"The conversation turned to the fact that my wife and I had one child," Ogilvy wrote. "This struck them as bizarre, and a venerable great-grandmother suggested my wife should 'get a new rooster.' " ...
19 February 2009
... For roughly thirty years between 1950 and 1980, the Mad Men dominated what was then the glamorous profession of advertising. Madison Avenue was the Manhattan asylum where they were unchained. It seems to us now - freed but tarnished by eBay and Amazon - a fabulously romantic age. This was America's Renaissance, Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution rolled into one slickly packaged and remorselessly consumerised experience. For three decades it was an intoxicatingly attractive delusion: life could be enhanced by buying more stuff. Suits were gorgeous, the commissions were generous, lunches were long, women had been liberated, but not too much. There was such a thing as an American Car and it was duotone pistachio and ivory with cosmic tail fins and chrome. Air travel was a luxurious privilege for the "jet set". Clients were gentlemen. They had fun, fun, fun.
David Ogilvy was born in 1911 into a milieu of gentility-on-a-budget. He seems to have been quite exceptionally self-possessed, travelling freely and enjoying amazing contacts wherever he landed. Money was magicked out of air. He always professed poverty, but never stinted himself. He was, of course, his own greatest invention, as Kenneth Roman, one-time chairman of Ogilvy & Mather, the advertising agency he founded, makes clear in this dutiful biography, which adds not a lot to the record, except the facts Ogilvy tended to avoid in his breezy 1978 autobiography, Blood, Brains and Beer.
I still remember three bits of advice I read in my university library copy that give some example of Ogilvy's persuasiveness. To paraphrase: when in doubt, confuse the issue; always give gracefully what you cannot refuse; always carry a box of matches so that if you foul the air in someone's bathroom, a chemical remedy is at hand (the burning phosphorus seems to have some vitiating effect on the expressed sulphur dioxide). Doesn't that, in retrospect, sound like an entire advertising philosophy?
A period with the pollster Arthur Gallup and an admiration for the metric methodology of the management consultant Alfred Kinsey were important influences. For Ogilvy, selling was the essence of advertising. He disdained the (usually unaccountable) bravura of "creativity", which in his day was a creeping malaise but nowadays wins adland awards, advocating instead "long copy". His most famous advert had the headline: "At 60 miles an hour, the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock." There follow four closely argued columns of small-font text. It is still often cited as the best ever advertisement (though it is more difficult to quantify the effect it actually had on Rolls-Royce sales).
Ogilvy was among the first to realise that, as all cars and soap powders are technically similar, the voodoo of brands had more value than chemical ingredients or metal nuts and bolts. It is not an accident that his two best advertisements - for Rolls-Royce and Hathaway shirts - were for small, idiosyncratic, susceptible (even credulous) companies, not for the mighty Ford or Texaco gasoline companies. In addition, Ogilvy maintained a version of morality about his trade, perhaps a racial inheritance from Scotland, perhaps acquired when he (briefly) owned a farm on Amish land in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, where he affected American Gothic dungarees and a broad-brimmed hat.
As he built his agency in New York, staff were bombarded with memos, inspirational thought lets, packaged advice, aphorisms, slide shows. Ogilvy was literally a man of letters. Many of these were incorporated in his landmark book, the 1963 Confessions of an Advertising Man. It was light on confession but heavy on quotability. It was also, of course, an advertisement for himself. Here we find "The consumer is not a moron; she is your wife" and "You cannot bore people into buying your product; you can only interest them in buying it".
In 1965, Ogilvy merged his New York and London agencies and the following year they went public. In 1973 he semi-retired to a preposterously grandiose French house called the Château de Touffou, near Poitiers. Here, he indulged in very well-dressed role-playing and entertained promiscuously, but was lured from la France profonde by the transatlantic wave of advertising agency mergers that began in the late 1970s, signalling the end of one type of Mad Man and his replacement by a different type, just as Mad, but now more Corporate as well.
The Saatchi brothers bought the Ted Bates agency in 1986. That same year, the Omnicom Group was, in a defensive manoeuvre, created out of Madison Avenue's finest independents. Most significantly, Martin Sorrell, one-time finance director and consigliere to the Saatchis, bought the revered J Walter Thompson Company in 1987. Ogilvy called Sorrell, not entirely respectfully, a "gnome", on account of his stature. When Sorrell made a move on Ogilvy & Mather, the old proprietor became more specific and called him an "odious little shit" (later modified to "jerk"). Then, when Sorrell put his price up, Ogilvy told his dismayed directors, "Maybe I can reform him." Well, he couldn't. In 1989 the Ogilvy brand was bought for $862m (Sorrell's WPP Group says $864m). The consumer was not a moron; the consumer was a rapacious numbers man. ...