“Only first class business, and that in a first class way.” – David Ogilvy
In 1948, David Ogilvy founded the agency that would become Ogilvy & Mather. Starting with no clients and a staff of two, he built his company into one of the eight largest advertising networks in the world. Today it has more than 450 offices in 169 cities.
Our history is the evolution of one man's thoughts, talents, and work ethic translated into a company culture, a defining business strategy, a destiny.
From the very beginning, David Ogilvy intended to have a different kind of company. He knew that if he was going to be successful as an expatriate running an under-capitalized offshoot of an old British firm in the country that invented modern advertising (in the city that was its epicenter), he would need to build a strong agency brand. The first two fundamental components of that brand would be the quality and diversity of the people, and the quality and class of the operation. "Only first class business, and that in a first class way."
The third component was his belief in brands. "Every advertisement is part of the long-term investment in the personality of the brand."
David worked relentlessly to instill the belief that our job is to make advertising that sells, and the advertising that sells best is advertising that builds brands. We practice what he preached. Over the past 60 years, Ogilvy has helped to build some of the most recognizable brands in the world: American Express, Sears, Ford, Shell, Barbie, Pond's, Dove, and Maxwell House among them, and more recently, IBM and Kodak.
Adroitly combining the pragmatic with the romantic, David Ogilvy's copywriting was at the heart of many of advertising's most famous campaigns, including perhaps the best-known headline ever written for an automobile ad: "At 60 miles an hour, the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock."
David firmly believed that the function of advertising is to sell, and that successful advertising for any product is based on information about its consumer. His copy was written to sell products, and it followed the basic rules of advertising: research and position the product, develop a brand image, and have a big idea.
“It takes a big idea to attract the attention of consumers and get them to buy your product. Unless your advertising contains a big idea, it will pass like a ship in the night.”
Faith in research led to Ogilvy's masterstroke for Dove. He quizzed the clients to determine points of distinction in their new soap bar, but got nowhere until he thought to ask, "Well, may I know the formula?" Within that formula, ignored by everyone else, he found a single intriguing fact: one-fourth of Dove's composition was not technically soap at all, but a compound called "cleansing cream." Thus the tagline "One-quarter cleansing cream – Dove creams your skin while you wash," which made Dove profitable in its first year of existence, an extreme rarity among personal care products. This remains the brand's positioning today.
"At the start [of Ogilvy & Mather]," recalled Ogilvy, "I was billed as the research director. And then one day I had a big idea. Amazing. Whoever heard of a research director having a big idea?" The big idea produced this ad, one of the agency's earliest successes and one of the best examples of the "news value" approach favored by Ogilvy in his early days.
Guinness requested an ad telling people that their stout went well with oysters. Research director Ogilvy immediately immersed himself in a Yale biologist's book on shellfish, and came up with this "guide," which at first glance seems to be more about oysters than the product. A more careful reading, however, reveals that all that oyster copypoints lead, eventually and slyly, to the subject of Guinness.
Ogilvy was so proud of this account that when it was withdrawn a few years later, he reported, "I wept in the client's face."
David Ogilvy ran through no less than 18 copy ideas for shirt-maker client Hathaway's inaugural campaign. The eighteenth was the now-celebrated Man in the Eyepatch. Soon Commander Whitehead had another aristrocrat for company in the Ogilvy repertory: Baron Wrangell, who had the patrician good looks and hauteur to carry the role, but also had an unfortunate tendency to "sway" in front of the camera. "We had to strap him to an iron pipe," reported Ogilvy.
With this mysterious character Ogilvy provided the client which had produced fine shirts to little commercial effect for 116 years – with "story appeal," a concept of which Ogilvy had learned from research wizard Harold Rudolph a few years earlier. How, readers wondered, did this dashing fellow lose an eye? An assassination attempt? A barroom brawl? Initially interested in the patch, readers came to be interested in the shirts and bought enough to more than double Hathaway sales in less than five years. Shortly after the debut of the Eyepatch Man, advertising pages were overcrowded with eccentric characters. ("I am the greatest wigmaker in history," proclaimed one 'Armando Ghedini.' "I spit on ugliness. I especially spit on wig ugliness.") Few had anything like the Eyepatch Man's success.
This ad did more than sell a lot of Rolls-Royce cars; in a way, it sold a profession. When the ad came out, young copywriter Thomas Watkins wrote, "You tore it down and pinned it to your wall, and stole a look at it every once in a while, and hoped like hell you could do something near as well." It only ran in two newspapers and two magazines, yet was so widely known and admired that its headline – "At Sixty Miles an Hour, the Loudest Noise in this New Rolls-Royce Comes from the Electric Clock" – now represents David Ogilvy in the Oxford Book of Quotations.
"The Rolls-Royce budget was less than two percent of the Cadillac budget," reported Ogilvy. "We were asked to perform a miracle analagous to the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes. This called for copy everyone would read and never forget."
Ogilvy immersed himself in Rolls-Royce data, which came to constitute nearly the whole of the body copy ("the coachwork is given five coats of primer paint, and hand-rubbed between each coat, before nine coats of finishing paint go on"). The famous headline came from a specific, obscure piece of testing data from the factory – a triumph, despite the ad's reputation as a creative milestone, of Ogilvy's faith in research.
"I had a terrific advantage when I started my agency in New York, "David Ogilvy once confided to a colleague. "I had an English accent." Well before the Saatchis and the Sorrells, Ogilvy was the lone Briton among New York agency heads. He was aware of the snob appeal inherent in this, and gladly exploited it in pursuit of accounts and sales.
In his Schweppes client Commander Whitehead, a cheerfully Shavian figure in tweed and full Van Dyke beard, Ogilvy found both a fast friend and audacious new way to leverage his national heritage.
Ogilvy christened the willing Whitehead "Ambassador from Schweppes" and put him in his own ads. He was an immediate hit. Dignified in demeanor and attire (sometimes with ambassadorial sash), yet playful enough to be seen picnicking or flirting, Whitehead became the living embodiment of the "scweppervescent" upscale mixer he produced.
Within five years this campaign had helped increase Schweppes sales by over 500 percent.