An ode to the ‘father of advertising’

Happy 100th birthday David Ogilvy. No doubt he’ll be smoking a pipe and spitting out acerbic one-liners wherever it is that admen go to play their harps. And if he were still alive he’d have hours of fun writing stabby, beautifully crafted columns to add to the traditional versus new media debate.

Ogilvy’s mentor was Claude C Hopkins, the founder of direct marketing and, to my mind, the founder of social media. From a strategy point of view, there’s really not a lot you need to know aside from Hopkins’ 1920s methods of selling soap powder to housewives with a handwritten database and some coupons. It was the pioneering days of what we might now call GrabOne and the other 56 odd voucher companies I can’t remember the names of but wish would stop sending me emails. The channels have evolved but human beings haven’t and these guys saw the light over 80 years ago.

Both masters understood the power of peer referrals and brand loyalty. Their campaigns were executed with stripped back copy and clear calls-to-action that made products sell.

Ogilvy came from a market research background but he also understood real people and influence; something a social media dashboard can never tell you.

He could write for the high-brow New Yorker set and tap their wallets with punchy prose that flipped ROI measures for his clients and led to genuine long-term strategic partnerships with brands.

Most importantly, Ogilvy took the evil out of advertising a long time before Google took the evil out of the internet.

“Advertising is only evil when it advertises evil things,” he said.

He favoured proven methods, research and plain language. He spat at agencies that put themselves at the centre of the creative process ahead of the people and a quality product. He anchored his campaigns in information and treated customers with respect.

Basically, he cut out a lot of the crap and that’s something we all need to be reminded of from time to time.


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