David Ogilvy once famously said, "If it doesn't sell, it isn't creative." This is a mantra that has served Ogilvy & Mather well over the years, but today I want to update it. I want to reverse it:
If it isn’t creative, it doesn’t sell.
Let me hasten to add, I’m not suggesting we get rid of the original. Not at all. Paradoxically, we need both versions. When David Ogilvy came out with those words, the business had just undergone a revolution on Madison Avenue. Creativity had become the god at whose altar everyone worshipped.
As a shrewd and canny former salesman, David Ogilvy instinctively knew the dangers that this could lead to. Sometimes you can get so dazzled by the bright light of creativity that, like Icarus, you fly too near to the sun. You start to believe you’re an artist rather than an artisan.
David Ogilvy's perennial insistence on the sharp end of business effectiveness was always there to keep us grounded. It became the DNA of the agency network. And it is as relevant today as it always was. So why do I want to reverse it?
Because there has been another revolution recently. The rise of social media. Consumers can now make or break a brand with a mouse click. They have more power in their thumbs than the old Roman emperors did. We are on the cusp of a new world—a world that promises a kind of interconnectedness unprecedented in human history.
In such a world, the cardinal sin is to be boring. It is the Age of the Storyteller. It requires of us an urgent and pervasive creativity. A creativity that never sleeps. One in which we are always on, 24/7.
To succeed, we must constantly challenge assumptions, take risks, be open to new ideas, make unlikely connections, fail spectacularly, and take advantage of the unexpected. In short, we must be ready to break some crockery.
This takes courage. In every branch of the arts—cinema, literature, painting—new ways of seeing are always misunderstood initially and often mocked. When Stravinsky premiered his Rite of Spring ballet in 1913, there was a riot in the audience. They literally broke the crockery. We are, in a sense, the pathfinders of the advertising world—forever looking at things in new ways, stacking ideas atop ideas, telling new stories, building something familiar but entirely new, and sending it off to live some kind of extraordinary new life—and, in so doing, moving an audience to tears, to laughter, to pathos, to anger, to joy.
I know a lot of people seduced by the glamour of the Mad Men TV series look back at David Ogilvy’s era and call it the good old days. But I disagree. This work here is proof that the Golden Age is now. A Golden Age both for the industry and, more importantly, for Ogilvy.
In 2012, when we had the greatest year in our history, we assumed it would be impossible to beat.
To think like that is to put handcuffs on our creativity. And look how wrong we were.
We became Network of the Year at Cannes, CLIO, London International Awards; we won an unprecedented haul of 155 Lions and four Grand Prix. And perhaps the crowning achievement—the one that would have made David Ogilvy smile most—was that we won the Effies. Proof that we are creative and we can sell.
Let us take a moment to reflect upon our achievement. I invite you to savor the contents of this collection. Salute the courage of the risk-takers, both at Ogilvy & Mather and among our clients. And feel proud of our success. And then set it aside, and get ready to surpass it.
In the high jump, when they raise the bar they do it by tiny increments. I would like to see us do something far more bold and adventurous than that. Not raise the bar but throw it away. Let us change the culture and achieve something truly transformational. We did it with Dove's "Real Beauty Sketches."
Some of the greatest names in the business have taken me aside and told me how much they admire that work. Clients continually ask me for something similar. Our competitors' clients ask their agencies for something just like it. But, of course, something "just like it" won't be anything like it. It will be something we haven't imagined yet. That's the challenge that faces us.
We have no idea what the next creative quantum leap will be. We just know it is out there somewhere and it is our job to find it.
Let us begin the quest without delay.
Tham Khai Meng
Worldwide Chief Creative Officer
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