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The Wisdom Of David Ogilvy


David Ogilvy: The Creativity Mandate

One of the greatest advertising geniuses of the 20th century was David Ogilvy.

Although he was the head of a Madison Avenue advertising agency, he sided firmly with direct advertising over creative advertising.

Here is an excerpt from a speech he gave to advertising professionals in Paris where he laid out the difference between the two approaches and why, in his opinion, direct advertising is the more effective form:

“There is a yawning chasm between you generalists and we directs. We directs belong to a different world. Your gods are not our gods.

“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 are the glamour boys and girls of the advertising community. 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.

“You must be the most seductive salesmen in the world if you can persuade hard headed clients to pay for your kind of advertising. When sales go up, you claim credit for it. When sales go down, you blame the product. We in direct response know exactly to the penny how many products we sell with each of our advertisements. Your favorite music is the applause of your fellow art directors and copywriters. Our favorite music is the ring of the cash register.

You generalists use short copy. We use long copy. Experience has taught us that short copy doesn’t sell. In our headlines, we promise the consumer a benefit. You generalists don’t think it is creative.

You have never had to live with the discipline of knowing the results of your advertising. We pack our advertisements and letters with information about the product. We have found out we have to – if we want to sell anything.”

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Susan Plunkett on November 25th, 2007 said

A thought provoking piece indeed. I do indeed sympathise with the assertion about “favourite applause” because over the past months as I have been acquiring greater knowledge about marketing, I have come to see how relatively exclusive, untouchable and self perpetuating some companies are. Some are more intent on advertising themselves than their clients. Sometimes I see talk of great product but no talk that that great product was indeed so good that it led to easy copy or campaign development. Somehow I have a sense that campaigns are composed with great agony and angst.

My one caution about the Ogilvy approach is to ask what trade they may not be capturing by sticking so rigidly to one primary modality albeit I DO understand the issue of sticking to what you’re best at doing and what you have a proven track record in. At the same time, companies who are still sticking to phone sales (even in the face of overwhelming consumer response to phone spam) are good examples of business resistance to societal change. What HAS worked may not always work.

Ted Grigg
Twitter: directguru
on November 26th, 2007 said

The fact that a branding blog would aspire to this kind of thinking is mind boggling.

Yet, I know that your concept of branding as discussed in all of your blogs is the correct perspective — at least to my way of thinking as a direct marketing consultant.

We must remember that branding, awareness and positioning as generally referred to by general advertisers are not objectives but strategies.

Why is that important to understand?

It is critical, because the objective of these strategies — including direct — is TO MAKE MONEY FOR THE CLIENT.

All clients can benefit with a proper balance in mixing these strategies depending upon their market position.


  1. Maggie's Farm - January 8, 2009

    American marketing

    America is the world master of marketing and advertising. (We owe something to the great advertiserDavid Ogilvie for that.) From For the Greater Goods, in The American:

    The latest Interbrand listing of the most valuable global brands reveals 8 Am

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