Skip to main content

What Would David Ogilvy Say About Today's TV Advertising?

If the late, great David Ogilvy was still with us, what do you think he’d say about the current state of TV advertising?

My guess is the man responsible for some of the most successful TV ad campaigns of all time and whose agency built many of the world’s most beloved brands, from Rolls-Royce to Dove soap, would be horrified by the self-indulgent irrelevancy passed off as “brand” advertising today.

Why? Because, above all else, Ogilvy believed that advertising must sell. He came by his insistence on “moving product” naturally, having started his career doing one of the most difficult jobs imaginable: selling cooking stoves, door to door, during the Great Depression.

The “finest sales instruction manual ever written”

Ogilvy learned very quickly what it took to communicate the value of a product to a homemaker managing the meager household budget. In fact, he learned so well and applied his learnings so effectively that he was asked to write an instruction manual for other salespeople. That tiny book, The Theory and Practice of Selling the AGA Cooker, was hailed by none other than Fortune magazine as “probably, the finest sales instruction manual ever written.”

Ogilvy understood that effective advertising, like door-to-door selling, depended, above all else, on extolling the virtues of the product being offered and the benefits it bestowed on the consumer.

His famous headline for Rolls-Royce, “At 60 miles an hour, the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock,” deftly summarized the elegance and superior engineering of the famed automobile. His deceptively simple but potent tag line for Dove soap, “Only Dove is one-quarter moisturizing cream,” helped Dove become the top selling soap in the U.S.

Many ad people are simply frustrated artists

Having worked with George Gallop’s Audience Research Institute, Ogilvy also firmly believed in the power of data as an antidote to the personal, unfounded and arbitrary opinions that permeated the advertising world.

He recognized that many ad people were simply frustrated artists, more interested in being “creative”’ than helping their clients sell products. In an agency culture that celebrated intuition and gut feeling, he insisted on meticulous research and adherence to reality.

Ogilvy was a rare specimen. Although he could – and indeed, did – sell luxury products to the world’s richest people, he also thoroughly understood the cares and concerns of ordinary consumers: homemakers, factory workers, farmers, the newly wed and newly retired. And, unlike many, he considered it an honor to sell good products to so-called “regular people”, and insisted his advertisements speak directly to them, their struggles and their needs – in their language.

Direct mail and DRTV were the tools he turned to again and again

He built his agency into a worldwide powerhouse not by creating TV campaigns that won awards or got lauded in advertising trade magazines for their fearless creativity but, rather, by his unremitting determination to use every available dollar to communicate to consumers why they should buy his clients’ products.

Not surprisingly, Ogilvy was absolutely committed to direct marketing, considering it the most effective form of advertising ever created. Direct mail and DRTV were the tools he turned to again and again to help build his clients’ businesses and their brands.

In a devastatingly honest speech, Ogilvy laid out his opinion about the value of direct marketing to an industry he felt was wasting their clients’ time and money on immeasurable and ineffective forms of advertising:

“You generalists pride yourselves on being ‘creative’ – whatever that awful word means. You cultivate the mystique of ‘creativity’. Some of you are pretentious poseurs. You regard advertising as an art form – and expect your clients to finance expressions of your genius. We directs do not regard advertising as an art form. Our clients don’t give a damn whether we win awards at Cannes. They pay us to sell their products. Nothing else.”

His words are as true today as the day he uttered them.

If Ogilvy was still with us, he would have embraced the internet as a direct marketer’s dream, an environment where data can be used to drive sales in new and unimagined ways.

He instinctively knew something most advertising creative types and corporate CMOs have never learned: that a consumer’s true faith in your brand is best judged not by focus groups, but by their willingness to purchase your product.

And he knew that sales, still considered a dirty word by many in advertising agencies, were a direct result of how well advertising communicated the benefits of the product it was selling to the people it was selling to.

“Let’s do what our clients pay us to do – sell their products!”

What would Ogilvy tell his clients today?

He would say, “Let’s create branded DRTV commercials that sell – really sell – the products and services our clients have entrusted us to market!”

He would say, “Use each and every direct response media strategy available to aggressively lower client costs and increase efficiencies!”

And, he would say, “Let’s create search campaigns, banner ads, websites and landing pages based not on artistic whim, but deep data and rigorous, detailed analytics that drive response and results.”

He would say, “Let’s do what our clients pay us to do – sell their products and services!”

About the author

Ian French, Head of Strategy

This website uses cookies. For more information read our privacy policy.