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  • Mickey Luberda

QUOTABLES: David Ogilvy- Father of Advertising

In our first entry of the "QUOTABLES" series, we look to the father of modern advertising– David Ogilvy. He was a British advertising tycoon, founder of the prestigious Ogilvy & Mather Agency in 1950's New York City, and is often referred to as the "Father of Advertising". He began his journey to the industry of advertising through his work with Gallup via polling and population studies. He attributed the success of his campaigns to meticulous research into consumer habits.

Ogilvy was passionate about his direct marketing approach, and had plenty of opinions on competitor's strategies. He crafted his campaigns with the customer in mind and shunned loud tactics like the celebrity spokesperson. He was known for elevating the customer from a simple consumer to an informed prospect, and much of this was because of his devotion to demographic studies on trends and buying patterns. He developed the philosophy that sales came from information and persuasion, not entertainment. Ogilvy's agency had a major hand in the success of entities such as Rolls Royce, Shell Oil, Schweppes, the island of Puerto Rico, and many more.


His work was always lauded for its high quality production, but his musings on the industry were well regarded as well. Being a loud and thoughtful character in marketing, he coined some important catchphrases– as you may expect from an expert in copywriting. His books Ogilvy on Advertising and Confessions of an Advertising Man are respected for their informative content and Ogilvy's charm. Without further ado, let's dive in to some of his best quotes on marketing, creative design, and what works in getting sales:


"I prefer the discipline of knowledge to the anarchy of ignorance."

This quote speaks to both his early days in quantitative analysis and his theories on messaging to consumers. There are indisputable facts that can be measured scientifically about your customer, and these conclusions can be the cornerstone of marketing strategy. On the receiving end of the advertising, this also highlights Ogilvy's emphasis that "...the consumer is not a moron!" (his words, not mine) If you show the prospect information in an intelligent fashion, they can be persuaded.


"If you can't advertise yourself, what hope have you being able to advertise anything else?"

This is a great quote for the rising marketer. Ogilvy was operating well before the concept of social media, but he understood the importance of personal branding. We know the advertising aesthetic of the fine suits and oiled hair, and David Ogilvy was one of the trend setters with his pipe and brandy glass in hand. This of course came after he established himself, which took grit, confidence, and impeccable presentation. Delivering the pitch in a convincing way can be just as essential as the pitch itself, and it shouldn't come as a surprise that elements of Don Draper in the show Mad Men were influenced by Ogilvy.


"I do not regard advertising as entertainment or an art form, but as a medium of information."

Ogilvy was always intent on disposing this stereotype of the loud, cheesy advertisement that yells "Buy, Buy, BUY!" There are a number of his quotes in this vein where Ogilvy seeks to elevate the advertisement from just an eye-catching piece of visual media. Ads are the way customers receive product information if you aren't talking directly to a salesperson. The ad itself can do the selling, but it can also attract the attention and develop the client's brand all at once. He was skeptical of jingles and celebrity spokespeople, because the information that really matters often gets watered down.


"Tell the truth, but make the truth fascinating."

As we mentioned before, he saw marketing media as a vehicle for information before entertainment, but that doesn't mean the facts can't be fascinating. A bored prospect is less likely to buy, so bringing out the most exciting truths of a product is essential. His major clients through the years were guaranteed that deception or misleading headlines would never be a part of their strategy. And because of that, only quality, reputable brands sought his services.


"Be more ambitious. Don't bunt. Aim out of the ball park. Aim for the company of immortals."

In the business world today, billions are spent on advertising, and a lot of that expenditure flies under the radar. That doesn't mean every ad can't reach the highest impact and potential it has. There's something to be said for swinging for the fences with every marketing piece, and David Ogilvy made sure everyone on his team knew this from the junior copywriter to the creative director. This is just all around good advice for any pursuit in life. Even if every one of us isn't making it into the history books, there's a lot to be gained from going for it.


Unless your ad contains a big idea, it will pass like a ship in the night."

We, as marketers, can't settle for the frivolous or small minded perspectives when we believe in the product and know it can grow. Ogilvy and other marketing gurus often cite this concept of the "Big Idea". It's romantic to think of it as an 'Aha' moment, but it is often derived from intensive research and analysis. Some level of critical thinking will always be necessary though, and that comes from experience. Ogilvy emphasized that you can't just create the big idea, "...you snare it from the air as it floats around you." Once the big idea has emerged, make sure the creative carries its weight.


"I don't want you to find my advertising 'creative', I want you to buy the product."

Ogilvy was known for this insistence that just being creative isn't enough. Now he isn't saying that some creative skill doesn't need to go into an ad; he is simply emphasizing that creative alone will get you no where. His agency's research teams were sometimes more expansive than his creative teams, and it's clear his time at Gallup polling greatly influenced his marketing theory. The data will guide success before a tagline. A quote like this also emphasizes why his company had great respect and financial success, because clients want to hear about sales! An ad can look as nice as ever, but if the key performance indicators aren't in the green, it doesn't matter.


"I notice increasing reluctance on the part of marketing executives to use judgment; they are coming to rely too much on research, and they use it as a drunkard uses a lamp post for support, rather than for illumination."

Now this quote may come as a surprise given some of his earlier accomplishments in research driven advertising, but it makes sense knowing it came later in his career. Just like creative, data can't prop up a company's performance alone. The critical thinking and judgement to read trends and adapt new ideas is a life long task for marketers. When we only rely on research to make decisions, the human element and instinct is lost. In the big data era of the 21st century, this is even more relevant as massive consumer lists are readily available, but using them intelligently is another feat.


David Ogilvy's impact on the advertising world will be studied for years to come. His campaigns marked an elevation of the industry itself– from loud, low brow noise to refined and informed information. Although our current economic landscape isn't exactly the same as the post-war era, his principles and theory can guide any marketer learning the practice. We all stand on the shoulders of industry giants like David Ogilvy, who showed us that giving a client an intelligent advertising voice elevates the product and the consumer.



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