Sunday, October 24, 2010

What Would David Ogilvy Do?

Prior to my conversion to pharmaceutical marketing, I spent more than a decade at OgilvyOne, New York.

It was, at least for most of those years, the best, most productive and educational experience of my agency career. (And I've had many experiences in my agency career.)

Ogilvy prided itself in being the advertising equivalent to a teaching hospital. Training was as big a part of the culture as its red hallways. You really could learn something new there every day.

It all stemmed from the old man, himself. Anyone who has read any of David's books or seen one of his many interviews knows that he had some very strong opinions about what advertising should and should not be.

Some of these pronouncements were so subjective and limiting that even the agency had long looked the other way when it came to them. (For example, one of David's rules was that an ad should never have reversed out type.)

Others are harder to shake. Particularly David's ultimate credo, "We sell or else."

At OgilvyOne, the direct response arm of O&M, that statement gave us our reason to be. (Along with his statements that direct response was his "first love" and "secret weapon," which were quoted ad nauseam.)

In a rather prescient video he taped for the Direct Marketing Association, sometime in the '70s, David accurately predicted how direct marketing and general advertising were each headed on a collision course. He was right: Today, clients do indeed demand more accountability and measurability, and virtually every advertisement has some sort of call to action, via a phone number, or more likely, an email address.

But what would Ogilvy make of today's marketing world?

Consumers are savvier and more skeptical of advertising than ever before. They abhor being sold to. Thanks to the Internet, they can more actively seek what they are looking for on their own terms. Rather than merely sell to them, businesses need to strategically position themselves where those raising their hands can find them.

Furthermore, brands today need to provide customers with more than just great products. (And products today better damn well be great.) They need to provide them with a brand experience (in store, online, etc.) that truly pushes the right buttons.

But even that isn't enough. In today's experience economy, brands must seek to transform – to literally improve the lives of those who use them. Success is when a customer can actually credit a brand for having had a profoundly positive influence on their lives.

Think of the classic election time question, "Are you better off today than you were four years ago?"

I'm not sure how flexible D.O. was. If he was willing to change with the times. Would he now say, "We transform or else."?


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  1. What would Ogilvy make of today's marketing world? The idealist in me says that hopefully he would re-quote his own words:

    Never write an advertisement which you wouldn't want your family to read. You wouldn't tell lies to your own wife. Don't tell them to mine.
    ~ David Ogilvy

    Just sayin'...

  2. I believe David Ogilvy would've adapted Darwin's work and vamped something to the effect of: “It is not the strongest of the agencies that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”

  3. i think you hit the nail on the head with the observation that ogilvy was a consummate salesman, exemplified by his famous 'we sell or else' quote … in this shifting landscape, it's not only the client that needs to transform, it's their messaging partners as well …

    if the client moves forward and the agency is still attempting communications along the same old lines, well … that won't do to well, will it? evolution must be on both sides of the fence, as it were.

    i believe david would see that transformation as vital to both halves of the equation, but gently and with great thought put behind it … i don't think ogilvy was impulsive where the agency/client relationship was at stake … but he did always nudge forward. some clients can take a stronger nudging than others, but nudge we must.