David Ogilvy in the Digital Age

During the Christmas break, I finally finished ”Ogilvy on Advertising” by the illustrious mad men-era Creative Director, David Ogilvy.

”I hate rules” it says on the cover. Albeit not filled with rules, but the book features insights on how to be successful in an agency environment. Most of these insights are as applicable today, as they were in the teak furnished corner offices at Ogilvy & Mather in the 1960s.

Do your homework

”You don’t stand a tinker’s chance of producing successful advertising unless you start by doing your homework. ”

Prior to working on the Mercedes account, he sent a team to Stuttgart to interview engineers, which in-turn sparked a factual advertising campaign that increased sales from 10,000 to 40,000 cars a year. David Ogilvy was all about facts, the “positively good”: the facts about your brand that will make you stand out from the crowd.

“Homework” is about getting to know brands well before any creative work is started. Go to stores, call customer service, download the apps, dissect the website, read the annual reports, interview stakeholders, read their brand guidelines. Immerse yourself with the brand. From that, you will start to see patterns: patterns that will guide your creative work, to find the “positively good”.

Listen to research

“Advertising people who ignore research are as dangerous as generals who ignore decodes of enemy signals”

As alumni of Gallup, Ogilvy had seen the power of research, and how you can leverage that in advertising. He was a pragmatic person, who didn’t want to make the same mistake twice.

“Research suggests that if you set the copy in black type on a white background, more people will read it than if you set it in white type on a black background.”

In the digital age, we have tons of best practices. For instance, how to structure navigations, what color the buy button should have or how many words a headline should feature. There are tons. Do we always keep these in mind? Maybe not. However, it might actually not be such a bad thing after all. What would the web look like if we only used best practices? Where would the innovation come from?

Down with committees

“…committees can criticize, but they cannot create”

It’s inevitable that we end up in large meetings where poor decisions are made. However, we should try to avoid them as much as possible. Meetings are powerful to get alignment, but not to create.

Pursuit of knowledge

“I once asked Sir Hugh Rigby, Surgeon to King George V, ‘What makes a great surgeon?’ Sir Hugh replied, ‘There isn’t much to choose between surgeons in manual dexterity. What distinguishes the great surgeon is that he knows more than other surgeons’. It is the same with advertising agents. The good ones know more.”

We should always strive to learn more about our field. There’s always something new to learn. This will become ever more important in the years to come, since technology is changing so rapidly. We cannot simply rely on our old knowledge.

Be involved

“If you want to get action, communicate verbally. If you want the voting to go your way at meetings, go to the meeting. Remember the French saying: ‘He who is absent is always wrong.’”

This is so true from a project management perspective. Don’t write that email. Go and talk to the guy. Most importantly, be involved, to make actions go your way.

Focus on heavy users

“Thirty-two percent of beer-drinkers drink 80 percent of all beer.”

Even though Ogilvy didn’t mention the Pareto principle, he used it. In our strategy work, we should focus on the “heavy users”. They’re the ones mostly using our services. They’re the ones who are most important.