David Ogilvy’s enduring legacy on advertising

Even in death, David Mackenzie Ogilvy, a British Advertising tycoon lives on. Since the day he opened up shop in 1948, his agency, Ogilvy & Mather, has been producing iconic, culture-changing marketing campaigns, making brands matter for fortune global 500 companies as well as local businesses across 132 offices in 83 countries, and most meritoriously, winning awards.

David Ogilvy’s legacy in the advertising world could hardly be overstated. Despite the advent of the Internet, his advertising techniques continue to resonate with the modern ad man or woman because consumer behaviour hasn’t changed all that much, and their buying decisions are still informed by basic human wants and needs. Ogilvy leveraged these wants and needs to sell products and bequeathed one of the best advertising agencies to the world. For the quintessential adman, the brand image is 90% of what sells and people buy images and not products. In other words, Ogilvy held and practiced what he believed in: “that the brand exceeds the product in importance”.

Born to a banker father in England on 23 June 1911, David Mackenzie Ogilvy was a British advertising tycoon, founder of Ogilvy & Mather, and known as the “Father of Advertising”. Were he alive, the 23rd of June this year would have been his 109th birthday.

Ogilvy, who died in 1999 at the age of 88, spent his entire professional life articulating and inculcating principles of management on which the culture of a major international communications firm could be built. “If you hire people who are smaller than you are, we shall become a company of dwarfs. If you hire people who are bigger than you are, we shall become a company of giants. Hire big people, people who are better than you,” Ogilvy demanded. “Pay them more than yourself if necessary.”

In order to create a first-class business, Ogilvy relied so much on training and used the metaphor of a teaching hospital to drive home his belief. “Great hospitals do two things,” he said. “They look after patients, and they teach young doctors. Ogilvy & Mather does two things: We look after clients, and we teach young advertising people. Ogilvy & Mather is the teaching hospital of the advertising world. And as such, it is to be respected above all other agencies.”

David Ogilvy was, and to a large extent still is, the most famous advertising man in the world. He left a remarkable legacy, and perhaps his most enduring contribution was the concept of brand image, now mandatory in marketing discussions, and a concept that has reached beyond advertising even into politics. But his most visible legacy is Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide. He committed his career to building an international firm, embedding its values so deeply that, unlike many companies created by a charismatic founder, it prospered after he retired, survived a hostile takeover, and remains highly respected today.

On books and reading, Ogilvy believed there was an almost perfect correlation between the number of books a copywriter read and the quality of that writer’s work. When one writer said that he had not read any books on advertising, but preferred to rely on intuition, Ogilvy wondered: “If you were to have your gallbladder removed tonight, would you choose a surgeon who had never read a book on anatomy, but preferred to rely on intuition?” he asked.

Two major trends have altered brand communication since Ogilvy’s time. The first trend is that branding is no longer simply a matter of selling products or services. It is a matter of journeys and experiences. Every interaction with a brand defines its relevance and value, and the total experience determines if people will trust the brand with continued patronage, and even advocacy.

The second trend is reflective of the current social and mobile media age. Communication for brands is now circular, and customer participation is as important as the brand’s. Yet for all the changes in the nature of branding, marketing, communication and technology, one consistency has remained: the premium on emotional connection between brands and people.

Therefore, Ogilvy’s ongoing relevance as a creative or strategy guide has less to do about changes in technology or shifting priorities in younger generation, and more to do with whether his approaches intersect with new realities.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


    No comments found.