David Mackenzie Ogilvy, a Scotsman, was king of American advertising for a hefty chunk of the mid-20th Century.
He ruled largely by decree. His principles of effective advertising which he espouses in his seminal autobiography, Ogilvy on Advertising, became part of advertising law and lore. Many of them still permeate the advertising industry today, though their author is largely unknown by the millennials for whom the past is more an encumbrance than an asset.
Still, in his day there were few inside and outside of advertising who didn’t know the name David Ogilvy. He was arguably the best copywriter of his time and some of the campaigns he created are now classics. It is widely believed that Madman’s Don Draper is modelled after him—and it is true that the consummate self-promoter, David Ogilvy, became advertising’s first superstar, predating the likes of the Saatchi brothers.
Yet, despite this and despite coming up with such socially progressive mantras as “The customer is not a moron, she’s your wife”, David Ogilvy and many of his views on advertising would today be far from effective and, to paraphrase another advertising doyen, John Wanamaker, would fall squarely into the half of an advertising budget that is wasted.
The reason is that the premise of just about everything Ogilvy created was based on two governing principles: research and the need to sell. In principle that sounds fine, but the world has changed since Ogilvy’s day and indeed changes daily. So has advertising. So must advertising. The trouble with research and focus on selling being governing factors is that neither allows flexibility and both are time consuming. I am not saying that they shouldn’t find a home as part of the creative process. They deserve to have some say. But we also must acknowledge that the expectations and influences that pervade today’s market(s) are so diverse and often contradictory that the one size fits all philosophy is largely ineffectual and often counter-productive.
I’ll give you one example: gender. Gender isn’t important anymore. In fact, it is dangerously important. That’s why linking, even by implication, morons and wives would be unacceptable today. Ogilvy got away with it then because the sexes—all two of them—were stereotyped. There are more than two today and none can be accurately categorised in term of attitude, behaviour, beliefs and, importantly for us, buying habits.
That’s why sales and selling cannot be the sole focus, let alone the purpose, of advertising. Today’s consumer—and, by the way even the word consumer, is archaic and somewhat demeaning—demands more. They don’t want to be “sold” something, they want authority over the buying process. People do not buy goods and services. They buy relationships, stories, and magic, and in this age of the hideously-termed Fake News, advertisers had better make sure that they deliver. Hyperbole has its use as a sweetener but for a market that is saying to us “convince me” it is simply no longer enough.
Given space, I could cite many other reasons why David Ogilvy’s innate inflexibility should be consigned to advertising’s once revered but now rusting toolbox. Don’t get me wrong: in his day David Ogilvy was a legend. But, he and his basic—very basic—beliefs have had their day.
Still and by way of tribute to Mr. Ogilvy and the other legends of advertising who swept advertising into the forefront of marketing, I give you this:
Oscar Wide said imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. What then of lampooning? One of David Ogilvy’s most famous print headlines was, “At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in the new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock”; I think it was Jaguar who responded with, “(With Jaguar) At 60 miles an hour, you don’t even hear the clock.”