#169 David Ogilvy The King of Madison Avenue

Summary Notes


In "The King of Madison Avenue," Kenneth Roman chronicles the remarkable life of advertising legend David Ogilvy, from his humble beginnings to his rise as a titan of the industry. Ogilvy, an English immigrant with little experience, opened his agency in 1948 on Madison Avenue and quickly became a leader in modern advertising. The book captures Ogilvy's quotable brilliance, his insights on leadership, and his idiosyncratic personality. Despite starting at 39 with only $5,000, Ogilvy's firm sold for nearly a billion dollars decades later. His approach, combining relentless curiosity, a love of research, and an insistence on professional excellence, revolutionized advertising. Ogilvy's legacy is one of creativity, innovation, and an unwavering commitment to crafting campaigns that sell, encapsulated by his mantra, "We sell, or else."

Summary Notes

David Ogilvy's Early Influence and Mentorship

  • David Ogilvy started his "David file" after a significant interaction with a famous individual at the age of 33.
  • He learned from this individual through letters and memos, even after becoming chairman of the company.
  • Ogilvy's legacy and its relevance are explored in the biography "The King of Madison Avenue" by Kenneth Roman.

"So began my David file. Almost everyone who worked at the agency kept one."

This quote shows the impact David Ogilvy had on his colleagues, prompting them to keep records of his advice and insights.

David Ogilvy's Unconventional Entry into Advertising

  • David Ogilvy opened his advertising agency with little experience at the age of 39.
  • Despite being an outsider, he quickly became a significant figure on Madison Avenue.

"World War II had been over for only three years when 39-year-old David Ogilvy, an English immigrant with almost no experience in advertising, opened up shop in 1948."

This quote highlights Ogilvy's bold move into advertising, setting the stage for his success despite his lack of experience.

The Curiosity and Intellect of David Ogilvy

  • Ogilvy was known for his inquisitive mind and never stopped learning, reading extensively about advertising and leadership.
  • He disdained those who did not seek knowledge in their field, considering them amateurs.
  • Ogilvy was also interested in successful leaders and their strategies, often reading biographies.

"Ogilvy's great secret was an inquiring mind; in conversation, he never pontificated. He interrogated."

This quote encapsulates Ogilvy's approach to learning and conversation, emphasizing his curiosity and desire to gather information.

David Ogilvy's Eclectic Background and Family Influence

  • Ogilvy's autobiography, "Blood, Brains and Beer," reflects his eclectic personality and upbringing.
  • His father's bizarre health advice and his contrasting relationship with his father and grandfather shaped his outlook.
  • Ogilvy admired his successful and adventurous grandfather, who became his blueprint for success.

"The title came from his father's bizarre directive that when David was six years old, to drink a glass of raw blood every day for strength and eat calves brains three times a week to expand mental faculties."

This quote provides insight into the unusual and formative experiences that influenced Ogilvy's character and drive.

David Ogilvy's Formidable Presence and Influence

  • Ogilvy is described as formidable, a term that conveys respect and capability.
  • His success in advertising is attributed to his intensity and ability to apply his knowledge effectively.

"Inspiring respect through being impressively intense or capable."

This quote defines Ogilvy's formidable nature, which was central to his approach to business and leadership.

The Importance of Reading and Learning from Biographies

  • Ogilvy's love for reading biographies persisted throughout his life, providing him with valuable lessons for his business.
  • He recognized the importance of understanding the history of one's profession and the strategies of successful individuals.

"He read a lot of biographies. He's not very different than you and I."

This quote demonstrates Ogilvy's commitment to self-education and the role it played in his professional development.

David Ogilvy's Views on Education and Learning

  • Ogilvy criticized conventional education, advocating for a system that inspires a lifelong love of learning.
  • He believed that success at school does not correlate with success in life.

"The mission of a great school is to not cram you with facts so that you can regurgitate them a few weeks later in an exam... It is to inspire you with a taste for scholarship which will last you all your life."

This quote reflects Ogilvy's philosophy on education, emphasizing the importance of cultivating a passion for knowledge rather than just memorizing facts.

David Ogilvy's Early Career and Personal Development

  • Ogilvy's early life experiences, including working in a high-standard French kitchen, shaped his leadership style.
  • He learned the value of setting high standards and creating a culture where employees feel they are part of the best in the world.

"The imperious head chef, Patard fired one chef because he could not make his pastries rise straight. But Ogilvy came to realize that such extravagant standards made the other chefs feel they were working for the best kitchen in the world."

This quote illustrates how Ogilvy's early work experience informed his future business practices, particularly the importance of maintaining high standards to inspire excellence in a team.

Philosophy on Business and Work Ethic

  • David Ogilvy's goal was not to be the biggest agency, but the best.
  • The culture at the agency was mission-driven, with employees seeing themselves as missionaries, not mercenaries.
  • Ogilvy valued hard work, discipline, and excellence, influenced by his experience in a French kitchen.
  • The idea of paying attention to small tasks, as they contribute to overall success, is highlighted.
  • Ogilvy's approach is likened to Bill Walsh's philosophy in "The Score Takes Care of Itself," focusing on doing little things right.

"I don't want to be the biggest agency. I want to be the best." "Working in a great french kitchen was first step in Ogilvy's education." "Everything you do here is important. Be proud of everything you have to do." "Do all the little things right, and then the score will take care of itself."

The quotes emphasize Ogilvy's dedication to quality and the significance of small tasks in achieving overall excellence. His approach to work was shaped by early experiences and influenced by successful figures like Bill Walsh.

Career Development and Salesmanship

  • Ogilvy's career began with humble tasks, which taught him valuable lessons.
  • He transitioned from academia to more hands-on work, such as peeling potatoes, to understand the importance of pride in one's work.
  • Ogilvy's experience selling stoves in Scotland taught him the power of the word "free" and the importance of understanding customer needs.
  • He learned to sell by teaching and offering value, such as cooking lessons, to potential customers.
  • His sales approach was to win over the cook to influence the lady of the house.
  • Ogilvy's success in sales led him to write a sales manual, which became highly regarded.
  • His manual emphasized charm, tenacity, and self-promotion.

"Pitard once confronted him. My dear David, what is not perfect is bad." "The Aga was the most expensive stove on the market." "He offered to give free cooking lessons with each stove and found plenty of takers." "We sell, or else."

These quotes reflect Ogilvy's early career experiences and his development into a skilled salesman. His success in selling stoves and his approach to customer service and value-added offers were formative in his later advertising career.

Learning from Mentors and Building Expertise

  • Ogilvy was influenced by his mentors and their ideas about advertising.
  • He sought to learn from the best, adopting practices from successful figures in the industry.
  • Ogilvy's brother played a significant role in his career, helping him get a job in advertising.
  • He was dedicated to learning everything about advertising, leading to rapid career advancement.
  • Ogilvy believed in repeating successful strategies and sticking to fundamentals.
  • He recognized the importance of simplicity and avoiding overcomplication.

"The good salesman combines the tenacity of a bulldog with the manners of a spaniel. If you have any charm, ooze it." "I was his disciple."

Ogilvy's quotes reveal his reverence for his mentors and his commitment to learning from them. His approach to advertising was shaped by the wisdom he absorbed from industry leaders, and he valued the art of selling as much as the science of it.

Embracing Research and Understanding Consumers

  • Ogilvy's work with the Gallup poll was pivotal, teaching him about consumer desires and opinions.
  • He viewed research as a crucial component of advertising success.
  • His experience with Gallup provided insights that many of his competitors lacked.
  • Ogilvy's understanding of research and consumer behavior was a significant advantage in his career.

"Probably the only other man I would put in the same category as Ogilvy was Raymond Rubicon." "It will teach you what the natives want out of life and what they think about the main issues of the day."

These quotes highlight Ogilvy's belief in the power of research to inform effective advertising strategies. His time with Gallup was instrumental in shaping his approach to understanding and targeting consumers.

Adaptability and Diverse Experiences

  • Ogilvy's career was marked by adaptability and a range of experiences.
  • His work with Gallup and as a salesman provided a strong foundation for his advertising career.
  • World War II offered Ogilvy a detour into military intelligence, further diversifying his experience.
  • The variety of roles Ogilvy undertook before starting his agency contributed to his comprehensive understanding of business and advertising.

"He had been moonlighting since 1939 as an advisor to the british government on american public opinion." "With the United States now embroiled in World War II, Ogilvy resigned from Gallup and went to work full time in british military intelligence."

These quotes demonstrate Ogilvy's willingness to engage in various roles and his ability to apply his skills in different contexts. His diverse background enriched his perspective and contributed to his later success in advertising.

Pre-WWII Covert Operations and Intelligence

  • Britain, short of arms and supplies, faced invasion in the years leading up to WWII.
  • Winston Churchill sought to involve the United States as a solution to Britain's predicament.
  • Stevenson led Britain's covert operations in the United States, acting as Churchill's secret weapon.
  • Stevenson, a Canadian businessman and inventor, noticed German steel production was shifting to armaments.
  • Churchill was the only one to heed Stevenson's warnings and tasked him with coordinating pre-war intelligence between Britain and America.
  • Olga v worked for Stevenson, who was working for Churchill, showing a clear line of connection.

"In Britain, short of arms and supplies and facing certain invasion, this is kind of relates to freedoms forge, the bonus episode you said, right? A desperate Winston Churchill said there was only one possible solution. I shall drag the United States in."

This quote highlights Churchill's strategy to involve the United States in Britain's defense during the prelude to WWII, illustrating his desperation and determination.

Stevenson's and Olga v's Characteristics and Contributions

  • Stevenson is described as strong-willed, quiet, ruthless, and loyal.
  • David Ogilvy (referred to as Olga v) learned the importance of brevity from Stevenson.
  • Stevenson valued Ogilvy's literary skill, analytical powers, initiative, and delicacy in handling sensitive problems.
  • Ogilvy was regarded as a brilliant intelligence officer by Stevenson.

"So Churchill, Stevenson is working for Churchill. Olgurby is working for Stevenson. See that connection?"

This quote connects the individuals involved in the covert operations, highlighting their roles and the hierarchy within their intelligence efforts.

Olga v's Detour to Amish Lifestyle

  • Olga v took an unexpected path after the war, choosing to live among the Amish in Pennsylvania.
  • Despite not being a farmer, he lived on a farm and became a local mystery at age 35.
  • Olga v admired the Amish lifestyle's simplicity and rejected modern conveniences.
  • His stay with the Amish lasted about a year and a half before he decided to enter advertising.

"Olga v became a farmer. Well, not exactly. Olga v was not a farmer, but a man who lived on a farm."

This quote clarifies that while Olga v lived among the Amish and on a farm, he was not a farmer by trade, emphasizing his unconventional life choices.

Olga v's Advertising Career Aspirations

  • Olga v believed he could start and run an advertising agency in America despite his lack of experience.
  • He described himself as having no marketing knowledge and no advertising experience, yet was determined to succeed.
  • Olga v became the American outpost for a British agency and eventually took over after forcing out the initial president.
  • His agency faced many challenges, including minimal funding and an unproven president, but he remained ambitious.

"Of all his ideas, the biggest was the notion that he could run an advertising agency in America."

This quote encapsulates Olga v's confidence and ambition to create a successful advertising agency despite his lack of direct experience in the field.

Olga v's Advertising Philosophy and Success

  • Olga v set high standards for himself and his agency, believing in the dogma of brevity and the power of aphorisms.
  • He aimed for memorable advertising, using metaphors and storytelling to capture attention.
  • Olga v's persistence and unique communication style contributed to his success in advertising.
  • His agency's ads became highly successful, leading to an inbound client process and the ability to be selective with clients.

"Agencies are as big as they deserve to be. We are starting this one on a shoestring, but we are going to make it a great agency."

This quote reflects Olga v's philosophy that an agency's size is a direct result of its merit and his determination to grow his agency from humble beginnings to greatness.

Olga v's Personal Traits and Work Ethic

  • Olga v hated laziness and mediocrity, striving for perfection in all aspects of his work.
  • His intolerance of sloth was reflected in his advertising philosophy, which demanded constant improvement.
  • Ogilvy's agency thrived on a culture of hard work and high standards, with a focus on youth and innovation.

"He had a near psychopathic hatred of laziness in all its forms. He was the least lazy person I've ever encountered."

This quote highlights Olga v's intense aversion to laziness and his relentless work ethic, which was central to his personal and professional identity.

Olga v's Impact on Advertising

  • Olga v's advertising campaigns were highly effective, with some ads performing exponentially better than others.
  • He revolutionized advertising approaches for various companies, leading to dramatic increases in sales.
  • His emphasis on story appeal and the use of unique elements in ads, like an eye patch on a model, grabbed consumer attention.

"Within three weeks, a single advertisement brought in orders equal to sales estimates for the next twelve months."

This quote demonstrates the extraordinary impact of Olga v's advertising strategy, where a single ad could exponentially increase a company's sales.

Olga v's Mistakes and Learnings

  • Despite his genius, Olga v made mistakes, such as underestimating the potential of Xerox.
  • He learned the importance of research and meticulous preparation, which contributed to his successful campaigns.
  • Olga v's work was recognized quickly in the advertising world, though he credited his life experiences for his abilities.

"Ogavi was not interested in an invention he did not understand, even when they offered some of their stock."

This quote reveals Olga v's occasional oversight in recognizing the potential of new technologies, which led to missed opportunities.

Olga v's Personality and Legacy

  • Olga v's flamboyant personality and showmanship were integral to his approach to life and work.
  • He maintained high standards for himself and his agency, seeking to create an enduring institution.
  • Olga v's interactions with other industry leaders helped shape his values and drive for excellence.

"It says the former amish farmer now wanted a Royce page."

This quote humorously illustrates Olga v's transformation from living a simple Amish life to desiring the luxury of a Rolls Royce, reflecting his complex personality and ambitions.

David Ogilvy's Work Ethic and Personal Life

  • David Ogilvy was motivated by financial success, which drove his work ethic on Madison Avenue.
  • He worked long hours, similar to Enzo Ferrari, from morning until midnight seven days a week.
  • His dedication to work led to three failed marriages and a regret later in life for not having more children.
  • Ogilvy's intense focus on work came at the expense of other aspects of his life.

"It wasn't until I tasted Lucre on Madison Avenue that I began to work in earnest."

This quote highlights Ogilvy's motivation for working hard was the financial reward he found in advertising.

"He winds up being married and forced. He's got like three different marriages, none of them work out."

The speaker is summarizing Ogilvy's personal life, indicating that his dedication to work negatively impacted his marital relationships.

"Confessions of an Advertising Man" by David Ogilvy

  • Ogilvy's book, published in 1962, is considered a civilized, literate, and entertaining take on advertising.
  • The book distills Ogilvy's experience into principles and memorable aphorisms.
  • Some key aphorisms include: "You cannot bore people into buying," "Committees can criticize advertisements, but they cannot create them," and "Compromise has no place in advertising."

"A magic distillation of learning and wisdom."

This quote describes the essence of Ogilvy's book, emphasizing its insightful and valuable content.

Ogilvy's Advertising Principles

  • Ogilvy stressed basic, old-fashioned disciplines in advertising.
  • He favored direct mail advertising and used this approach to help build American Express.
  • The CEO of American Express, at his wife's urging, sought Ogilvy's expertise despite the company being a small account at the time.

"Ogavi prefers to stress basic old fashioned disciplines."

The quote summarizes Ogilvy's preference for traditional advertising methods that he believed were more effective.

Ogilvy's Business Philosophy and Management Style

  • Ogilvy believed in maintaining a unified agency with a consistent philosophy, resisting the trend of acquiring other agencies.
  • He authored "Principles of Management" to convey a unity of purpose across his company's offices.
  • Ogilvy emphasized professional standards, minimizing office politics, and maintaining high morale.

"My ambition for Olga Vieya Mather is that it should be the best agency, not necessarily the biggest."

Ogilvy expresses his desire for quality over quantity in his agency, prioritizing being the best over being the largest.

Ogilvy's Writing Discipline and Style

  • Ogilvy was a meticulous writer, throwing away many attempts before finalizing his copy.
  • His writing process included extensive research, drafting, and editing.
  • He made his writing attractive and easy to read with formatting techniques such as double spacing and underlining key phrases.

"I'm a lousy copywriter, he would say, but a good editor."

This quote reveals Ogilvy's self-perception as a writer and his emphasis on the importance of editing.

Ogilvy's Later Years and Legacy

  • Ogilvy sold his shares in the company, which he later regretted, as it led to a takeover that he felt destroyed part of him.
  • He continued to influence the company culture and was celebrated with a book of his unpublished works.
  • Ogilvy reflected on his life, sharing regrets and emphasizing the importance of big ideas in advertising.

"He has done rather well for an immigrant, don't you think?"

This quote from an American friend summarizes Ogilvy's successful career and the respect he earned, despite the challenges he faced.

The speaker's notes encapsulate the key aspects of David Ogilvy's life, work, and philosophy as discussed in the transcript. Each quote is tied back to the theme it represents, providing context and demonstrating its relevance to the overall message.

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