Though told in a time where the men brought home the bacon and the women ruled the roost, David Ogilvy’s tale of life on 1960’s Madison Avenue is still a relevant and interesting read for today. It’s a world all too reminiscent of the very successful AMC series Mad Men. In fact, I often heard Don Draper’s voice talking to me as I read David Ogilvy’s words. This thorough account paints a vivid and colorful picture of agency life – Glamorous, cut-throat, creative, exhilarating and full of ego’s – huh, much like ad agency life now in the 21st century. My own advertising career began at the peak of dot-com bubble (when I was just a wee babe ..wink) – Lots of ego’s and lots of money EVERYwhere. So it’s ironically and with a sense of nostalgia that I read David Ogilvy’s words and vividly picture his two-martini lunches, because I not so long ago was also enjoying many a champagne-filled and VC-funded party.
His views on advertising are quite idealistic, but for those of us in the online marketing world today, witnessing the rise of social in all of its glorious benevolence, we can relate.
Advertising is after all, for the greater good.
- It raises the standard of the population. Without the spread of the knowledge of higher standards, one would not know the world of possibilities (read: products) available. Such as knowing that with just a few $1000 in savings, this Chloe bag could easily be within my reach.
- It brings savings to consumers. More sales equals more efficiencies in production, enabling mass-scale and supply chain efficiencies that can lower the cost of manufacturing significantly. Thus enabling those efficiencies to be passed on to the consumer in the form of lower prices. hmm, this one may be a bit harder to defend, perhaps when advertising is present, as is competition – but what about those oil companies, I mean c’mon!
- It is nearly impossible to continue to sell a bad product. As declared by Howard Morgens who ran Proctor and Gamble (and the Father of Soap Operas) “The quickest way to kill a brand that is off in quality is to promote it aggressively. People find out about its poor quality just that much more quickly.” That is especially true today, where any consumer can yield a hammer to an established or up and coming brand with the touch of a few keyboard strokes and a Yelp or Twitter account. Would any advertiser dare take on the masses today?
- It improves the products we purchase. Ogilvy was a data-driven guy and a strong advocate for a close working relationship between creatives and researchers as highlighted by his famous quote “Advertising people who ignore research are as dangerous as generals who ignore decodes of enemy signals.” I would agree.. the better the feedback loop from consumers to product developers (often facilitated by marketing research), the better the products. With social media, that feedback is ever more accessible and crowdsourcing can even help build the product before any dollars are invested.
- It brings the world within reach. Within one year of his famous ad campaign and proudest achievement – Ogilvy’s “Pablo Casals is coming home – to Puerto Rico” helped to change the image of a country and positively increased travel revenues almost three-fold from 19 million to $53 million a year. Today, our world is much smaller and accessible, but I would argue more as a result of technical advances that enable more communication and openness, rather than advertising.
Ogilvy also expounds on the virtues of hard work, smarts, dedication and covers everything from how to get ahead in your advertising career, to how to pick the right clients, the do’s and don’ts on good copy writing and finally the importance of research in advertising. His rules for ad design were meticulous and I would think somewhat restrictive to the creative process. And I wonder how many of those rules can apply today or have our aesthetic senses changed too dramatically from those days? I would argue the latter, with the advent of the internet, advances in graphic design – what worked in David Ogilvy’s world may not necessary work today – but it would certainly stand out.
Ogilvy’s belief that advertising could make or break a product fueled his passion for creating iconic ads. And his pro-consumerism stance backed by his conviction that “advertising is good for us” really does feel reminiscent of times today. For those of us working in technology, the internet, or advertising – we are seeing innovation beyond what we ever thought possible, innovation that changes lives and in some cases even saves lives. Our collective conscious as seen streaming through twitter feeds and facebook updates chooses to highlight the greater good, reward companies that are responsive with great products and those that do good.
What do you think.. Is advertising still good for us? Or is it irrelevant in today’s world of peer to peer influence?