#306 David Ogilvy Confessions of an Advertising Man

Summary Notes


In this episode, the host delves into the influential work of David Ogilvy, a titan of advertising whose book "Confessions of an Advertising Man" offers a wealth of wisdom on the craft. Ogilvy's strategies include the importance of hard work, the use of factual information, and the repetition of effective advertisements. He emphasizes the value of understanding consumer benefits, creating compelling headlines, and the power of individual genius over committees in driving success. The host admires Ogilvy's commitment to excellence and his ability to distill complex ideas into memorable aphorisms, such as "You cannot bore people into buying your product" and "Pay peanuts and you get monkeys." Ogilvy's legacy is framed not only by his successful campaigns but also by his belief in the formidable individual's capacity for greatness, a philosophy that has deeply inspired the host and shaped the narrative of the episode.

Summary Notes

Tiny: Business Selling Simplified

  • Tiny offers straightforward cash exits for founders looking to sell their business.
  • Deals range from $1 million to over $100 million.
  • Aimed at reducing the typical headache and hassle of selling a business.
  • Also open for business for venture capitalists (VCs) with portfolio companies not raising more VC but suitable for long-term ownership.
  • Contact Tiny at high@tiny.com for a response within 48 hours.

"Tiny is the easiest way for you to sell your business. Tiny provides straightforward cash exits for founders." This quote summarizes Tiny's value proposition of providing a simple and hassle-free exit strategy for business founders.

Meter: Internet and Wi-Fi Solutions

  • Meter offers fast, secure, and reliable Internet and Wi-Fi.
  • The company name is inspired by utility meters, suggesting the essential nature of Internet service.
  • Suitable for various commercial spaces including offices, warehouses, and laboratories.
  • Features include streamlined design and installation, powerful hardware, smart software, expert support, and no upfront costs.
  • Offers a monthly payment model that grows with your business.
  • For more information, visit their website and check the value Meter can provide.

"Meter makes fast, secure and reliable Internet and Wi-Fi that's as easy to switch on as water or electricity." This quote describes Meter's core service offering, emphasizing ease of use and essential utility.

David Ogilvy: Founding an Advertising Agency

  • David Ogilvy started an advertising agency in New York and achieved immediate success despite skepticism.
  • Wrote "Confessions of an Advertising Man" to attract clients, condition the market for public offering, and enhance personal business reputation.
  • The book was a bestseller, exceeding sales expectations and fulfilling its intended purposes.
  • Ogilvy & Mather, the agency, grew significantly by adhering to Ogilvy's ideas.

"Americans thought I was crazy. What could a Scotsman know about advertising? My agency was an immediate and meteoric success." David Ogilvy reflects on the initial doubt about his capability and the subsequent success of his advertising agency.

Corporate Culture and Advertising Success

  • David Ogilvy emphasizes the importance of a strong corporate culture within organizations.
  • Ogilvy & Mather is recognized for its distinct corporate culture.
  • Ogilvy shares maxims that have been integrated into the agency's culture, such as focusing on sales, interesting consumers, valuing knowledge, hiring intelligent individuals, respecting the consumer, and the necessity of a big idea in campaigns.

"The head of one of the biggest agencies recently told me that Ogilvy & Mather is the only agency in the world with a real corporate culture." This quote highlights the unique and recognized corporate culture at Ogilvy & Mather, seen as a differentiator in the industry.

Ogilvy's Maxims and Advertising Wisdom

  • Ogilvy lists several maxims that guide his approach to advertising, such as the need to sell effectively, engage consumers, prioritize knowledge, respect the consumer, and ensure advertising campaigns have a significant, impactful idea.
  • He believes in the individual's capacity for greatness and the inefficiency of committees in creative endeavors.

"Search all the parks in your cities, you'll find no statues of committees." David Ogilvy uses this quote to underscore the value of individual contribution and creativity over group efforts in achieving greatness.

Valuing Advertising Agencies and Client Relationships

  • Ogilvy asserts the importance of fairly compensating advertising agencies for their work.
  • He warns against clients focusing too much on agency fees rather than the effectiveness of their advertising spending.
  • Ogilvy believes that underpaying agencies leads to poor results, encapsulated in the aphorism "pay peanuts and you get monkeys."

"Clients who haggle over their agency's compensation are looking through the wrong end of the telescope." This quote criticizes clients who prioritize cost-cutting over the value delivered by their advertising agencies.

Learning from Advertising History and Experience

  • Ogilvy stresses the importance of learning from past advertising experiences and building upon proven principles.
  • He criticizes the ignorance of advertising professionals who fail to study and apply historical knowledge, leading to repeated mistakes.

"Advertising agencies still waste their clients' money repeating the same mistakes." This quote highlights Ogilvy's frustration with the lack of historical knowledge and learning within the advertising industry.

Ogilvy's Lessons and Last Will

  • Ogilvy shares his insights on advertising as a craft that combines inspiration, know-how, and hard work.
  • He warns against the temptation to entertain rather than sell, emphasizing the primary goal of advertising is to sell products.
  • Ogilvy notes the significant variance in sales effectiveness between different advertisements.
  • He advises focusing on consumer benefits, international applicability of successful campaigns, simplicity, and the longevity of good campaigns.

"Creating successful advertising is a craft. It's part inspiration, but mostly know-how and hard work." This quote encapsulates Ogilvy's view of advertising as a skilled profession requiring both creativity and practical expertise.

David Ogilvy's Writing and Personality

  • Ogilvy's writing style is praised for its clarity and memorable expression of ideas.
  • His personality is evident in his writing, with a distinct originality and willingness to challenge conventional views.

"My eye patch campaign for Hathaway shirts ran for 21 years. My campaign for Dove soap has been running for 31 years, and it is now a bestseller." David Ogilvy uses these examples to demonstrate the enduring power of well-crafted advertising campaigns.

Early Life and Education

  • David Ogilvy was sent to a Scottish school with strict disciplines established by his great uncle.
  • He attended Oxford but did not succeed and was expelled due to lack of work and preoccupation with other matters.

"At the age of 13, I was sent to a Scottish school whose spartan disciplines had been established by my great uncle. After I went to Oxford and made a botch of it, I was too preoccupied to do any work and was duly expelled."

The quote explains Ogilvy's early educational background, highlighting his failure at Oxford due to distractions.

Career Exploration

  • David Ogilvy spent 17 years exploring various jobs around the world during the Great Depression.
  • His roles included chef, door-to-door salesman, social worker, research associate, assistant to Sir William Stevenson, and farmer with the Amish.

"For the next 17 years, while my friends were establishing themselves as doctors, lawyers, civil servants and politicians, I adventured about the world, uncertain of my purpose."

This quote reflects Ogilvy's period of career exploration and uncertainty about his life's work.

Unexpected Career Outcome

  • Ogilvy expected to become prime minister but instead became an advertising agent.
  • He prides himself on the success of his clients and his role in advertising.

"I had expected to become prime minister when I grew up. Instead, I finally became an advertising agent on Madison Avenue."

The quote conveys the contrast between Ogilvy's initial aspirations and his ultimate career path.

Personal Narrative Style

  • Ogilvy chose to write his book in the first person singular, going against contemporary American conventions.

"By writing this book in the old fashioned first person singular, I have committed an offense against a convention of contemporary American manners."

This quote explains Ogilvy's decision to use a personal narrative style in his writing, which he acknowledges as unconventional.

Management Philosophy

  • Ogilvy believes that management principles from various fields, such as cooking, are applicable to advertising.
  • He worked under a master chef named Pitar, whose leadership and high standards influenced Ogilvy's approach to managing his advertising agency.

"Managing an advertising agency is like managing any other creative organization... I have always believed that if I could understand how Pitar, the head chef, inspired such white hot morale, I could apply the same kind of leadership to the management of my advertising agency."

The quote shows Ogilvy's realization that management skills are transferable and his intention to emulate the leadership qualities of his former head chef.

High Standards and Excellence

  • Ogilvy emphasizes the importance of high standards and not tolerating incompetence.
  • He relates this to Steve Jobs' philosophy of only working with 'A players' and the negative impact of tolerating 'B players.'

"He did not tolerate incompetence. He knew that it is demoralizing for professionals to work alongside incompetent amateurs."

This quote underlines the significance of maintaining high standards and the detrimental effect of allowing incompetence within a professional environment.

Commitment to Promises

  • Ogilvy stresses the importance of keeping promises, such as delivering work on time, regardless of the cost.

"Today I see red when anybody at Ogilvy and Mather tells a client that we cannot produce an advertisement on the day we have promised it."

This quote illustrates Ogilvy's strong commitment to meeting deadlines and keeping promises to clients.

Founder's Role

  • Ogilvy discusses the founder's responsibility to create an environment conducive to creativity and productivity.
  • He believes in teaching and instilling company values to maintain a positive company culture.

"I have come to the conclusion that the top man has one principal responsibility, to provide an atmosphere in which creative mavericks can do useful work."

The quote highlights the founder's duty to foster a creative and supportive work atmosphere.

Expectations and Admiration

  • Ogilvy lists the traits he admires in employees, such as hard work, intelligence, and self-confidence.
  • He also outlines his expectations for himself, including fairness, vitality, and recruiting high-quality staff.

"Number one, I admire people who work hard who bite the bullet... Number six, I admire self-confident professionals, the craftsmen who do their jobs with superlative excellence."

These quotes provide insight into the qualities Ogilvy values in his employees and himself, emphasizing hard work and professional excellence.

Pursuit of Excellence Over Bigness

  • Ogilvy's ultimate goal is to pursue excellence rather than size, preferring a smaller number of high-quality clients.

"The pursuit of excellence is less profitable than the pursuit of bigness, but it can be more satisfying."

This quote conveys Ogilvy's philosophy of valuing quality over quantity in his business approach.

Tolerance for Genius

  • Ogilvy advises tolerance for the challenging personalities of highly talented individuals in order to produce remarkable work.

"I have no ambition to preside over a vast bureaucracy... tolerate genius."

The quote emphasizes the need to accept the idiosyncrasies of highly talented individuals to foster exceptional work outcomes.

Claude Hopkins and Scientific Advertising

  • David Ogilvy emphasizes the importance of reading Claude Hopkins' book "Scientific Advertising."
  • He mentions reading it six times, highlighting its significance in advertising knowledge.
  • Hopkins is a significant figure in the biography of Albert Lasker, another advertising legend.

"Reading Hopkins' book 'Scientific Advertising' six times."

This quote shows Ogilvy's dedication to mastering the principles laid out by Hopkins and suggests the high value he places on this particular work in the field of advertising.

Critique of Modern Advertising Agencies

  • Ogilvy criticizes large advertising agencies managed by "second generation caretakers."
  • He believes these managers lack the ability to create potent campaigns due to their focus on smooth interactions rather than creative talent.

"Some of the mammoth agencies are now being managed by second generation caretakers who floated to the top of their organizations because they were smooth contact men."

Ogilvy's critique here is aimed at the leadership of large advertising agencies, implying that their success is more due to networking and interpersonal skills rather than genuine advertising talent.

Talent and Nonconformity

  • Ogilvy praises nonconformists, dissenters, and rebels as likely sources of talent.
  • He dislikes teamwork, considering it a concept invented by mediocre individuals.
  • Ogilvy believes in individual greatness and has a disdain for committee-driven business.

"Talent, I believe, is most likely to be found among nonconformists, dissenters, and rebels."

Ogilvy argues that true talent often comes from those who challenge the status quo, suggesting that creativity and innovation are linked to a rebellious spirit.

The Importance of Unconscious Thought

  • Ogilvy discusses the limitations of logical thinking in business.
  • He describes techniques to keep open communication with his unconscious mind.
  • Activities like listening to music, gardening, and taking vacations help him receive ideas for advertisements.

"I am almost incapable of logical thought, but I have developed techniques for keeping open the telephone line to my unconscious in case that disorderly repository has anything to tell me."

Ogilvy emphasizes the value of intuition and unconscious thought in the creative process, suggesting that it can be a source of original ideas and should not be underestimated.

Traits for Success

  • Ogilvy lists hard work, an open mind, and ungovernable curiosity as traits he values.
  • He believes that creative organizations need formidable individuals to lead and produce great work.
  • Great creators often have strong personalities and are not easily integrated into the modern corporation.

"No creative organization, whether it is a research laboratory, a magazine, a parish kitchen, an advertising agency, will produce a great body of work unless it is led by a formidable individual."

This quote encapsulates Ogilvy's belief that exceptional leadership is essential for the success of any creative endeavor, reinforcing the importance of individual capability over collective effort.

Client Acquisition and Agency Growth

  • Ogilvy shares his experience of growing his advertising agency from an obscure beginning to a successful enterprise.
  • He details his strategy for acquiring clients, including targeting companies without agencies and providing valuable information through direct mail.

"15 years ago, I was an obscure tobacco farmer in Pennsylvania. Today I preside over one of the best advertising agencies in the United States with billings of 55 million a year."

Ogilvy narrates his journey from humble beginnings to running a leading advertising agency, showcasing the potential for dramatic growth with the right strategies and mindset.

The Pursuit of Shell as a Client

  • Ogilvy demonstrates his dedication by personally answering a questionnaire from Shell and flying to England to meet with the president of Shell.
  • His persistence and unconventional approach eventually won him the Shell account.

"The biggest account I ever got was Shell."

This quote highlights the significance of the Shell account in Ogilvy's career and the lengths he went to secure it, illustrating his commitment and strategic thinking.

Excellence and Competition

  • Ogilvy discusses setting high standards and the scarcity of first-class agencies.
  • He refers to supremely talented individuals as "trumpeter swans" and stresses the importance of hard work ("midnight oil").
  • Ogilvy believes that by becoming formidable, one faces less competition.

"We take immense pains to select our clients. It is not generally realized that there aren't enough first class agencies to go around."

The quote underscores Ogilvy's selective approach to client acquisition and his belief in the rarity of truly excellent advertising agencies, suggesting a competitive advantage for those that achieve excellence.

The Role of the Founder

  • Ogilvy sees a great company as an extension of a great individual.
  • He criticizes the emphasis on teamwork in some agencies, reinforcing his belief in the power of the individual.

"A great company is just the lengthened shadow of a great individual."

Ogilvy's view is that the essence of a company's greatness can often be traced back to the vision and character of its founder, which he sees as more impactful than collective efforts.

Excellence in Advertising

  • David Ogilvy emphasizes the importance of aiming for excellence, not mediocrity.
  • He believes that significant agencies reflect the vision of an individual, not a committee.
  • High standards and clear communication are crucial in maintaining quality.
  • He advocates for direct feedback and setting high expectations for one's team.

"I care about excellence, right? And the way to think about it is like an agency of any consequence. So he's like not talking about the agencies that are ruled by committee, only interested in competing with and being my peer group is excellent people, right?"

This quote underscores Ogilvy's focus on individual excellence over collective mediocrity, highlighting the significance of individual vision in creating a consequential agency.

Setting High Standards and Clear Communication

  • Ogilvy stresses the importance of not sugarcoating feedback in business.
  • He suggests being diplomatic yet clear when work does not meet standards.
  • It's essential to explicitly state what is inadequate and to encourage the team to do better.
  • Praising the team when they meet high expectations is also important.

"If you think that your business is performing badly, don't beat around the bush. Speak your mind loud and clear. Disastrous consequences can arise when a founder pussyfoots in his day to day dealings with his business."

This quote highlights the importance of straightforward communication in business and the potential negative consequences of not being clear with feedback.

The Importance of Hustle and Recognizing Genius

  • Ogilvy notes the value of working with gusto and making swift decisions.
  • He mentions the success of Jerry Lambert with Listerine as an example of quick action leading to substantial profits.
  • Ogilvy also observes that mediocre individuals often resent and seek to destroy genius.
  • He argues that geniuses, despite being disagreeable, are valuable for their exceptional contributions.

"My observation has been that mediocre men recognize genius, resent it, and feel compelled to destroy it. There are very few men of genius, but we need all we can find. Almost without exception, they are disagreeable. Do not destroy them. They lay golden eggs."

This quote emphasizes Ogilvy's belief in the importance of tolerating and protecting the genius within an organization, as they are the ones who can make significant contributions despite their difficult nature.

Building Great Advertising Campaigns

  • Ogilvy draws parallels between his approach to advertising and Napoleon's approach to strategy.
  • He advocates for learning from predecessors and competitors to create successful campaigns.
  • The focus should be on deciding the key benefit that the product promises.
  • Ogilvy insists on providing ample factual information in advertisements, as it leads to better sales.

"I am an inveterate brain picker, and the most rewarding brains I've picked are the brains of my predecessors and of my competitors."

This quote demonstrates Ogilvy's belief in the value of learning from others' successes in order to craft effective advertising strategies.

Writing Effective Copy and Headlines

  • Ogilvy dedicates significant attention to the importance of headlines in advertisements.
  • He states that the headline is what decides if the rest of the copy will be read.
  • A good headline should promise a benefit and appeal to the reader's self-interest.
  • Ogilvy also recommends using testimonials and keeping paragraphs short for readability.

"The headline is the most important element in advertisements. It is the Telegram which decides the reader whether to read the copy."

This quote encapsulates the critical role of headlines in capturing the reader's attention and determining the effectiveness of an advertisement.

Repetition in Advertising

  • Ogilvy emphasizes the importance of repetition in advertising to build brand recognition.
  • He uses the analogy of advertising to a moving parade, not a standing army, to highlight the constant influx of new potential customers.
  • He warns against the temptation to constantly change successful advertisements in pursuit of novelty.

"You are not advertising to a standing army. You are advertising to a moving parade."

This quote stresses the ongoing nature of advertising and the need for repetition to reach new customers who are constantly entering the market.

Career Advancement through Knowledge

  • Ogilvy provides a blueprint for rapidly rising to the top in one's career.
  • He advises being ambitious and becoming the most informed person on your assigned account.
  • He encourages thorough research, hands-on experience, and learning from all available resources.
  • Ogilvy's advice is to outwork and outlearn peers, as knowledge and initiative are key to career success.

"Set yourself to becoming the best informed man in your agency on the account to which you are assigned."

This quote highlights the importance of ambition and the pursuit of knowledge as the foundation for career advancement within an organization.

What others are sharing

Go To Library

Want to Deciphr in private?
- It's completely free

Deciphr Now
Footer background
Crossed lines icon
Crossed lines icon
Crossed lines icon
Crossed lines icon
Crossed lines icon
Crossed lines icon
Crossed lines icon

© 2024 Deciphr

Terms and ConditionsPrivacy Policy