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Advertising's Benevolent Dictators: Ogilvy

Benevolent dictators

is the name of a book from the 1908s I was given as a gift after a speaking engagement [thanks!].

The title comes from the tension required in those who run advertising agencies: to rule their word must be law, but to be a creative environment they must be "fair...kind and understanding...helpful...and a father [or mother] confessor when one is required". 

It's a series of interviews with the "All-time Greats" of advertising.

From the list of names up there, I'm guessing that most will only truly recognize two: William Bernbach and David Ogilvy, who remain as well known today [in the industry] as they ever were.

All-time greatness is a fleeting thing. 

[A couple more may be vaguely familiar, names lost inside the ever changing acronyms of agencies.]

In some ways they represent the two poles of thinking about advertising, the hard sell of Ogvily [historically associated with the USA, although Ogilvy was English] and the soft sell 'creative revolution' of Bernbach [historically associated with the UK, but Bernback was a 'born New Yorker'].

Brand versus product. Image versus claim. Idea versus research.

Of course, they shouldn't really be 'versus' at all. 

Ogilvy came from a sales and then research background - hence advertising was "salesmenship in print" and research always directed the creative. 

Bernbach believed that before copy and art came the idea, to be worked on together.

As I mentioned a long time ago, history is an oft neglected part of advertising education. Each generation is doomed to learn the same lessons as the previous, perhaps because the industry as a whole lacks a coherent "corpus of knowledge", especially about what works and how, the like of which Ogilvy hoped to build at his agency.

The book is available but not common - so I thought I'd share some choice cuts - today from Ogilvy

On Getting Started//

"I got a history scholarship to Oxford, but I got some sort of block, didn't do any work, couldn't pass any exams, and got thrown out, which was very traumatic."

"So I took a job selling kitchen stoves, back in Scotland. I did that for a few years, and I got good at it - door-to-door selling of expensive kitchen stoves. One day, the company said to me, "You're a very good salesman, you've got the best sales record. Will you write a brochure for our other salesmen on how to sell stoves?" So I wrote it, and it go me a job in an agency in London, which is now our London office."

On Being Inspired//

"Now, I'll tell you why I started an agency. In those days, I thought Young an Rubicam was much the best agency. It was the only agency I wanted to work for. I admired Raymond Rubicam very much. But I thought they'd never hire me. I said to myself, "I can't get a job there, so the only thing to do is start my own agency"...I sometimes think Ogilvy & Mather is more "Rubicamish" than Young & Rubicam.

Well then, Ogilvy & Mather got started. I was the Research Director. It's the only thing I knew anything about in those days" 

On Creative versus Creative Direction//

"We were what wouild nowadays be called a "creative boutique". Those words hadn't been invented on those days. We got a reputation for being a hot creative shop...We'd got fix or six famous campaigns.

I was also a good salesman. I was a moderately good creative man, and did some good campaigns, but I was a lousy creative director. What I did best was new business."

On Values//

"We had Standard Oil-New Jersey. We had a chance to get Shell. Etsy almost died when he heard I was going to try for Shell, when we'd already got an oil company. I was, "The fact that one is $13million and the other $2million does not make any difference to you." One day we had a chance to get Lipton Tea, but we had Tetley. He wouldn't let me touch Lipton. God, Lipton was something like $8million, and Tetley was $1 million. Etsy is the most honest, decent, moral man I know. He made us respectable."

On Agency Marketing//

Today the marketing function seems to be disappearing from the agency world. There was a time when the marketing people in the agencies were better than their clients. That may not have been true at Proctor, but it was at most of our clients.

On Consolidation//

Nowadays, the fashion is to go around buying other agencies. It gives me the creeps. If this trend continues, in a few years, there are going to be about ten giant agencies and a lot of little local ones.

On Education//

I don't think they should study advertising at the undergraduate level in college...I think it's better if college students get an eduction in geography, or economics, or physics, or Latin, but not advertising. I want people whose education has not been in advertising. I don't like saying that, because I don't want to start every professor of advertising thinking I am his enemy...I like people with well-furnished minds." 

On Women//

In the early years, I was against women in the agency business. And then I changed my mind. Most of the things we advertise are bought by women and used by women, but most of the advertising is written by men. Idiotic. What the hell do men know about it? 

On Bernbach and Background//

We are what we were. Take Bill Bernbach, whom I respect so much. His background is completely different from mine. Sometimes I look at a Doyle Dane ad and say to myself, "I don't know who wrote this, but I'll bet he has never had any experience in direct response, or he couldn't write a headline like that."

The horryifing thing to me is to see the way people in big manufacturing companies fall for "creativity". I can take them a commercial which is sounds as a bell, full of consumer benefit and demonstration, and they'll say, "It's not creative." So you go back with a commercial written by one of these entertainers, and they love it."