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Brand Building: Fear Decisions By Committee


Advertising Legend David Ogilvy

In his autobiography, “Confessions of an Advertising Man,” legendary advertising pioneer David Ogilvy, tells how he was once invited to a corporate meeting to compete for a major account. When he entered in the chairman’s board room, the chairman said, “Mr. Ogilvy, we are interviewing several agencies. You have exactly fifteen minutes to plead your case. Then I will ring this bell and the next agency waiting outside will follow you.”

Ogilvy quickly asked: “How many people will be involved in the decision?”

“The twelve members of the Committee here today,” replied the chairman.

“Ring the bell!” Ogilvy said, and walked out.

David Ogilvy understood the perils of decision by committee. He knew that this approach to decision making often failed.

In behavioral science, there is a well-documented propensity for small committees to drift toward “extreme” decisions, that is, a group of individuals acting as a committee often makes a decision that none of the individuals acting alone would make, given the same information. Yet, even with this insight decisions are made this way everyday.

Today, we don’t need committees. We need leaders on the agency and client sides who actually lead. Who are not afraid to commit to a direction and move forward.

‘Search your parks in all your cities. You’ll find no statues of committees.’

David said that too.

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1 Comment

TomDouglis on February 19th, 2015 said

Great article! There may be no statues of committees, but we can’t put our heads in the sand and wish for David Ogilvy’s day to return. It’s gone and it isn’t coming back. Businesses have ‘evolved’ to become far more complex, inclusive and transparent today than they were in David Ogilvy’s time. To operate in that environment, management teams and committees have largely replaced the autocratic, single decision-maker. The net result is that virtually all of the brand programs we create are going to be diluted to some degree. As brand consultants, we need to anticipate and prepare for that reality by building our programs to be great enough to take the inevitable hits from the committees and still be great enough to thrive in the external markets after dilution. We need to build brands that can thrive in a world of scrutiny…

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