#189 David Ogilvy The book Ive given as a gift the most

Summary Notes


In this comprehensive discussion, the host delves into the life and wisdom of David Ogilvy, the legendary advertising mogul, through the lens of "The Unpublished David Ogilvy," a compilation of Ogilvy's memos, letters, and interviews curated by his peers. Ogilvy's journey from an uncertain 38-year-old with a patchwork career to the founder of a top-tier advertising agency epitomizes the value of hiring unconventional talent. His principles—hard work, research-driven creativity, and a disdain for mediocrity—shaped his agency's culture and led to his success. Despite his achievements, Ogilvy remained grounded, attributing his success to objectivity, hard work, salesmanship, and a unique perspective from his research background. The host, a fervent admirer of Ogilvy's traits and philosophies, reflects on the timeless relevance of Ogilvy's approach to advertising, leadership, and life, underscoring the significance of pursuing happiness over material success.

Summary Notes

Unconventional Hiring Practices

  • David Ogilvy's unexpected success story highlights the benefits of imaginative and unorthodox hiring.
  • Despite a lack of formal education or experience in marketing, Ogilvy became a renowned copywriter and built a major advertising agency.
  • The moral suggests that agencies could benefit from taking risks on non-traditional candidates.

"Will any agency hire this man? He's 38 and unemployed. He dropped out of college. He knows nothing about marketing... However, a London agency did hire him. Three years later, he became the most famous copywriter in the world and in due course built the 10th biggest agency in the world."

The quote describes David Ogilvy's unconventional entry into advertising, emphasizing the potential rewards of hiring candidates with diverse backgrounds.

David Ogilvy's Legacy

  • David Ogilvy's book, "The Unpublished David Ogilvy," provides insights into his leadership, management, and creativity.
  • The book is a collection of communications, memos, letters, speeches, notes, and interviews.
  • It was compiled by Ogilvy's family and colleagues as a birthday present and reflects his impact on advertising and corporate culture.

"This is a book unlike any other. It is a career's worth of public and private communications, memos, letters, speeches, notes, and interviews from the father of advertising, David Ogilvy."

This quote introduces the book as a unique compilation of Ogilvy's work, offering a comprehensive look at his career and thoughts.

The Book's Background

  • "The Unpublished David Ogilvy" was first published in 1987 as a tribute for Ogilvy's 75th birthday.
  • The book was assembled by Joel Ralpheson, who collected writings from the "Ogilvy world."
  • The writings were categorized into well-defined sections, including a section dedicated to Ogilvy's fondness for lists.

"They published the unpublished David Ogilvy on David's 75th birthday in 1986 and gave it to him on a boat party in London."

The quote provides context for the book's creation and its significance as a personal gift to Ogilvy.

Early Insights into Advertising

  • At 25, Ogilvy wrote a memo outlining his views on advertising, which he found years later and shared with his company board.
  • The memo emphasized the importance of clear, factual, and human copy in advertising.
  • Ogilvy's early thoughts on advertising remained consistent throughout his career.

"Every ad must tell the whole sales story... Permanent success has rarely been built on frivolity and that people do not buy from clowns."

Ogilvy's quote from his early memo encapsulates his advertising philosophy, focusing on substance and simplicity.

David Ogilvy's Sales Manual

  • Ogilvy wrote a sales manual for the Aga cooker at 24, which was later praised by Fortune magazine.
  • The manual provided practical advice for salesmanship and highlighted the importance of understanding the customer's interests.
  • Ogilvy's sales strategies were considered timeless and applicable across various products and mediums.

"The worst fault a salesman can commit is to be a boar... No household which can afford a car can afford to be without an Aga."

These quotes from Ogilvy's sales manual illustrate his approach to sales, emphasizing the need for engaging communication and setting high standards.

Internal Company Communications

  • Ogilvy's internal memos and notes reveal his emphasis on hiring talented individuals and fostering a distinctive company culture.
  • He used memorable maxims and repetition to reinforce his business principles and expectations.
  • Ogilvy's leadership style was marked by charm, flair, and a focus on teaching and mentorship.

"Hire gentlemen with brains and be one, too... I plead for charm, flair, showmanship, taste, distinction."

Ogilvy's quotes from company memos reflect his criteria for hiring and the cultural values he promoted within his agency.

The Importance of Proactivity and Service

  • Ogilvy encouraged even the most junior meeting attendees to be proactive and to think of ways to be of service.
  • He believed in the importance of taking initiative without being prompted, as a way to contribute meaningfully to discussions and client interactions.

"The most junior agency representative present in any meeting should make himself useful by servicing the meeting... He should not have to be told to do this."

This quote from Ogilvy advises junior staff to actively find ways to assist in meetings, highlighting the value he placed on initiative and service.

Involvement of Relevant Experts in Meetings

  • David Ogilvy emphasizes the importance of having the right people present in meetings to make progress.
  • He suggests that junior employees should bring in an art director or media expert when needed.
  • Junior employees often sit passively instead of actively seeking the involvement of knowledgeable colleagues.

"more progress if we had the art director or one of the media experts present, the junior man should leave the meeting and return with the person concerned."

This quote highlights the need for involving subject matter experts in meetings to ensure productive outcomes. Ogilvy criticizes junior employees for not taking initiative to involve the right people.

Making Memorable Communications

  • The speaker admires Ogilvy for treating life as an adventure and for his memorable communications.
  • Ogilvy's varied life experiences before founding his company at age 38 are noted, including being a cook and working for the British intelligence.
  • Ogilvy learned the value of brevity and clear communication from his boss, who was an inspiration for the James Bond character.

"And then two examples of that last note where I said, make it memorable."

This quote introduces the theme of creating memorable communications, a practice Ogilvy admired and implemented in his own work.

Brevity in Communication

  • Ogilvy's boss at the British intelligence agency taught him the value of terse communication.
  • His boss would respond with simple notes: "yes," "no," or a question mark.
  • Ogilvy applied this lesson in his own communications, emphasizing brevity and getting to the point quickly.

"The value of brevity, of getting to your point extremely fast."

This quote summarizes Ogilvy's lesson on the importance of concise communication, learned from his experience in intelligence work.

Impactful Messaging

  • Ogilvy's memos were designed to be short but impactful.
  • He used surprising comparisons to grab attention and ensure his message was remembered.
  • An example is given where Ogilvy compares the delay in showing Sears ads to the gestation period of pigs.

"It has been three months since Struthers pick them, longer than the period of gestation in pigs."

This quote exemplifies Ogilvy's skill in crafting a message that is both memorable and impactful by using an unexpected comparison to highlight a delay in work.

Memorable Job Applications

  • Ogilvy remembered a particularly memorable job application letter he received 19 years prior.
  • The applicant's unique background and education at the London School of Economics made the application stand out.
  • The letter's memorable first paragraph is still recited by Ogilvy.

"19 years ago, you wrote me the best job application letter I have ever received. I can still recite the first paragraph."

This quote demonstrates the lasting impact of a memorable job application, highlighting how certain communications can stand out over time.

Cost Consciousness in Business

  • Ogilvy stresses the importance of watching costs and avoiding unnecessary extravagance.
  • He cites Charlie Munger's reaction to newspaper office extravagance and the need to communicate efficiently.
  • Ogilvy advises against wasteful use of communication tools like telex, which is compared to modern-day Slack.

"Why does a newspaper need a palace to publish in?"

This quote reflects Ogilvy's and Munger's shared belief in cost-effectiveness and their criticism of unnecessary business extravagance.

Admired Traits in Colleagues

  • Ogilvy writes an obituary for a colleague he admires, highlighting the traits he values.
  • He praises the colleague's kindness, intelligence, work ethic, honesty, sense of humor, and willingness to challenge him respectfully.
  • The obituary serves as a reflection of Ogilvy's admiration for certain character traits in others.

"His kindness to me and to dozens of other people was nothing short of angelic."

This quote from the obituary Ogilvy writes for a colleague reveals the traits he most admires and values in people he works with.

Importance of Big Ideas in Advertising

  • Ogilvy criticizes advertising that lacks a "big idea" and fails to capture consumer attention.
  • He believes that advertising must be both sound and brilliant to be effective.
  • Ogilvy stresses that creativity and research must be combined for successful advertising.

"Unless your advertising contains a big idea, it will pass like a ship in the night."

This quote encapsulates Ogilvy's philosophy that advertising must have a central, compelling concept to be memorable and effective.

Confidence and Intellectual Growth

  • Ogilvy encourages a stance of confident authority in his communications.
  • He advises his nephew to stretch his first-class mind, emphasizing intellectual growth.
  • Ogilvy's book "Ogilvian Advertising" reflects his genuine beliefs and serves as his "last will and testament."

"I prefer a posture of confident authority."

This quote illustrates Ogilvy's belief in the importance of confidence in one's expertise and authority in their field.

Longevity in Career

  • Ogilvy attributes his long career to outliving competitors, maintaining interest in advertising, and giving younger partners freedom.
  • He acknowledges the role of his partners in tolerating his presence and contributing to the growth of Ogilvy & Mather.

"I've outlived all my competitors."

This quote provides insight into one of the factors Ogilvy believes has contributed to his enduring career in advertising.

Personal Interests and Work Habits

  • Ogilvy describes his narrow interests and routine, which includes gardening, working at his desk, and reading biographies.
  • He outlines his meticulous 12-step process for writing copy, which involves extensive research, drafting, and editing.
  • Ogilvy admits to his shortcomings, including intolerance for mediocrity, fear of flying, and difficulty firing people.

"I spend several hours a day working in my garden and several hours a day at my desk, and I read a great deal, mostly biography."

This quote reveals Ogilvy's personal interests and the disciplined approach he takes to his work and leisure activities.

  • Ogilvy provides a list of his most useful books on advertising, which he believes all his colleagues should read.
  • The list includes "Scientific Advertising" by Claude Hopkins and "Tested Advertising Methods" by John Caples.
  • Ogilvy values these books for their insights and foundational knowledge in the field of advertising.

"Somebody recently asked me for a list of my most useful books on advertising, the books that all of our people should read."

This quote introduces Ogilvy's recommended reading list for those seeking to deepen their understanding of advertising principles.

  • David Ogilvy lists several influential books on advertising.
  • These books are considered essential for understanding the craft and business of advertising.

Number four, how to advertise by Kenneth Roman.

This quote is David Ogilvy recommending "How to Advertise" by Kenneth Roman as a key resource for learning about advertising.

Number five, reality and advertising by Rosser Reeves.

David Ogilvy is suggesting "Reality in Advertising" by Rosser Reeves as another important book for advertisers to read.

Number six, the art of writing advertising by Bernock, Burnett and Gribbin.

Here, David Ogilvy is adding "The Art of Writing Advertising" by Bernock, Burnett, and Gribbin to his list of essential advertising reads.

And number seven, and he says ogre, too. Number seven, the hundred best advertisements by Julian Watkins.

David Ogilvy mentions "The Hundred Best Advertisements" by Julian Watkins as the seventh book in his list, humorously mispronouncing his own name as "ogre."

Maxim: Don't Be Boring

  • Ogilvy emphasizes the importance of creating memorable and engaging advertisements.
  • Boring ads fail to attract attention, and thus, cannot effectively sell products.

Don't be a dull boar. We can't save souls in an empty church.

David Ogilvy uses a metaphor to highlight that uninteresting ads won't attract an audience, akin to an empty church unable to save souls.

Instead, he says, don't be boring.

This is a simplification of Ogilvy's advice, emphasizing the need to avoid dullness in advertising.

Consistency in Advertising

  • Ogilvy advocates for the consistent use of successful ads.
  • He likens advertising to addressing a moving parade, not a standing army, suggesting the audience is always changing.

Works, don't pull it, don't stop using it until it stops converting into customers.

Ogilvy advises that an advertisement should be used as long as it continues to be effective in converting viewers to customers.

It's to a moving parade.

This quote illustrates Ogilvy's view of the advertising audience as ever-changing, necessitating a consistent message to reach new people continuously.

Building a Brand Image

  • Ogilvy stresses the importance of a consistent brand image.
  • He criticizes brands that try to appeal to everyone, resulting in a lack of distinct personality.

Be known for and then stick to it.

Ogilvy's advice is to choose a specific image or concept for a brand and consistently adhere to it.

What would you think of a politician who changed his public personality every year?

Here, Ogilvy compares inconsistent branding to a politician who frequently changes their public persona, suggesting it would lead to confusion and lack of trust.

Hiring and Maintaining a Team of 'A Players'

  • Ogilvy places high value on setting high standards and maintaining a team of top performers.
  • He encourages giving team members the freedom to innovate and improve upon established ideas.

Of a players first, set exorbitant standards and give your people hell when they don't live up to them.

Ogilvy believes in setting high standards for his team and holding them accountable for meeting those standards.

I am hungry for younger creative people to come along and enlarge our philosophies. Start where I leave off.

This quote shows Ogilvy's openness to new ideas and his desire for younger team members to expand upon his work.

Brevity and Clarity in Communication

  • Ogilvy values concise communication and advises against overly lengthy or trivial memos.
  • He encourages cutting down wordage to improve clarity and effectiveness.

For Pete's sake, write shorter memos.

Ogilvy is expressing frustration with long-winded memos, urging for brevity in written communication.

Reflection on Agency Growth and Culture

  • Ogilvy reflects on the growth of his agency and its adherence to the values and culture he envisioned.
  • He emphasizes the importance of controlled expansion to maintain quality standards.

How does the Olgovy and mather of 1962 compare with the agency I dreamed of in 1948?

David Ogilvy is assessing the growth and development of his agency, comparing its current state to his original vision.

Work Ethic and Discipline

  • Ogilvy admires strong work ethic and discipline.
  • He believes in the value of hard work and meeting deadlines, as well as the importance of vacations to recharge.

Think of the extraordinary self discipline that requires.

This quote reflects Ogilvy's admiration for individuals who demonstrate a strong work ethic and self-discipline.

Critique of Educational Systems

  • Ogilvy criticizes the focus on rote learning in educational systems.
  • He believes that education should inspire a lifelong love of learning, rather than just preparing students to pass exams.

The mission of a great school is to not cram you.

Ogilvy argues that schools should inspire a passion for learning rather than just filling students with facts for exams.

Pursuit of Excellence

  • Ogilvy believes in the relentless pursuit of excellence within a company.
  • He does not tolerate mediocrity and encourages setting high professional standards.

It is also the duty of our top people to sustain unremitting pressure on the professional standards of their staff.

This quote underscores Ogilvy's belief that company leaders should consistently enforce high standards of performance.

Hiring Exceptional Talent

  • Ogilvy advises hiring people who are more talented than oneself.
  • He believes in the importance of surrounding oneself with exceptional individuals to drive success.

If you ever find a man who is better than you are, hire him.

Ogilvy's quote encourages the hiring of individuals who demonstrate superior talent and skill.

Characteristics for Rapid Promotion

  • Ogilvy lists five traits for rapid promotion within his agency, which are applicable to professional success in general.
  • Traits include ambition, hard work, intelligence, personality, and respect for the creative process.

Number one, he is ambitious.

This is the first trait Ogilvy lists as essential for rapid promotion, highlighting the importance of ambition.

Corporate Culture

  • Ogilvy discusses the importance of building a strong corporate culture.
  • He believes that a strong culture is built through shared values, making heroes, and establishing rites and rituals.

The people who built the companies for which America is famous all worked obsessively to create strong cultures within their organizations.

This quote illustrates Ogilvy's belief in the importance of a strong and distinct corporate culture for the success of an organization.

Business Philosophy and Ethics

  • David Ogilvy emphasizes running a business in a first-class manner.
  • Ethical advertising is a key principle; advertisements should be something you'd be comfortable showing to your own family.
  • These ideas reflect Ogilvy's commitment to integrity and high standards in business.

"My first class business." "And that in a first class way." "And never run an advertisement you would." "Not want your own family to see."

The quotes highlight Ogilvy's belief in conducting business with excellence and ethical considerations in mind.


  • Ogilvy dedicates an entire chapter to leadership, underscoring its significance in corporate performance.
  • Great leadership has an electrifying effect on corporations.
  • Leadership is about individual characteristics and actions.
  • Ogilvy worked under three great leaders: Pitard, George Gallup, and Sir William Stevenson, who influenced his understanding of leadership.
  • High academic achievement is not correlated with industrial leadership.
  • Corporations often reject unconventional executives, yet these mavericks are crucial for innovation and growth.
  • Great leaders are confident, resilient, and not petty.
  • They persevere through challenges, as demonstrated by Howard Clark during the American Express scandal.
  • Leaders are committed to their jobs, set high standards, and make tough decisions without seeking universal approval.
  • Field Marshal Montgomery's quote encapsulates the essence of leadership.

"It has been my observation that great leadership can have an electrifying effect on." "The performance of any corporation, and leadership comes from individuals." "In his opinion, I have had the good fortune to work for three superb leaders." "There appears to be no correlation between industrial leadership." "And high academic achievement." "I was relieved to learn this because I have no college degree." "Great industrial leaders are always fanatically committed to their jobs."

These quotes convey Ogilvy's observations on the transformative power of leadership and the personal qualities that define effective leaders.

High Standards and Professionalism

  • Ogilvy learned the value of high standards from a chef in Paris.
  • Gordon Ramsay's experience with demanding chefs parallels Ogilvy's own, emphasizing the importance of meeting high expectations.
  • High standards can be demanding and even harsh but ultimately lead to significant learning and growth.
  • Those unable to meet high standards are often removed from their positions.
  • Professional success often comes from enduring and learning from tough experiences.

"From this chef in Paris I was." "Pushed, the tougher your skin gets." "The tougher your skin gets, the further." "To succeed and to survive in that environment, you had to rise to those standards." "And anybody that did not rise to those standards was eliminated."

These quotes reflect the belief that enduring high-pressure environments and meeting high standards are essential for professional development and success.

The Role of Mavericks in Corporations

  • Ogilvy argues that corporations should tolerate and encourage mavericks.
  • Mavericks often symbolize innovation, which is vital for company growth.
  • Great leaders often have a strong component of unorthodoxy in their characters.

"I suggest that corporations should try to tolerate, encourage their mavericks." "The best leaders are apt to be found among those executives who have a strong component of unorthodoxy in their characters."

The quotes emphasize the importance of embracing unorthodox individuals within corporations, as they often drive innovation and leadership.

Reflections on Personal Success and Life Choices

  • Ogilvy reflects on his life and career, providing insights into his decision-making and regrets.
  • He discusses the unpredictability of life decisions and the importance of happiness over material success.
  • Ogilvy attributes his success to objectivity, hard work, salesmanship, and leveraging his research background in advertising.
  • He acknowledges a period in his life where he felt close to being a genius.
  • Ogilvy advises against retiring too early and emphasizes the importance of staying active and engaged.

"I haven't the faintest idea why I make them." "I wouldn't have made so many damn mistakes." "Mega mergers are for megalomaniacs." "Every day for years, I thought it was going to fail." "Personal dislike made me resign many accounts." "Yes. A big family, ten children." "Retiring can be fatal." "Bores. Above all, bores." "I'm almost unique in that way." "I was pretty close to being a genius, and I can look back on that with interested curiosity and affection and some nostalgia."

The quotes offer a candid look into Ogilvy's personal reflections on his life decisions, successes, and the wisdom he gained over the years.

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