David Mackenzie Ogilvy, the son of Francis John Longley Ogilvy, was born at West Horsley, Surrey, on 23rd June 1911. He attended St Cyprian's School, Eastbourne before winning a scholarship at thirteen to Fettes College, in Edinburgh. In 1929, he won another scholarship to Christ Church College. However, he left Oxford University without taking a degree in 1931.
According to his biographer, T. A. B. Corley: "His sense of self-doubt and insecurity, which often expressed itself in boastfulness, sprang partly from sibling and adult depreciation of him as the youngest child, and in part from an early realization that he could never match the academic and other accomplishments of his father and brother, Francis... That débâcle (of leaving university) was probably due to a recognition that for him it had to be first class or nothing."
Ogilvy became an apprentice chef in the Majestic Hotel in Paris. He wrote in the Confessions of an Advertising Man (1963): "That was in 1931, the bottom of the depression. For the next seventeen years, while my friends were establishing themselves as doctors, lawyers, civil servants, and politicians, I adventured around the world, uncertain of purpose." After a year, he returned to Scotland and started selling Aga cooking stoves, door-to-door. His success at this marked him out to his employer, who asked him to write an instruction manual, The Theory and Practice of Selling the AGA Cooker , for the other salesmen. His biographer has pointed out: "This unpublished Aga saga wittily and acutely demonstrated his early interest in statistics (only 10,000 Aga owners in 12 million British households), lists (selling points and likely objections to overcome), and the psychology of doorstepping a client (choosing the most favourable time of day, carefully studying the householder's circumstances)." It included the comment: "The good salesman combines the tenacity of a bulldog with the manners of a spaniel. " His older brother, Francis Ogilvy, showed the manual to management at the London advertising agency Mather & Crowther where he was working. They were so impressed that they offered the younger Ogilvy a position as an account executive.
In 1938 Ogilvy to study the advertising market in the United States. The following year he resigned from the company and married Melinda Street, from Virginia. He was now employed by the Audience Research Institute, that had been set-up by George H. Gallup in New Jersey. Ogilvy later claimed that it was the luckiest break of his life "as it furnished him with immeasurably useful knowledge about the techniques of marketing research, as well as about what made United States citizens really tick".
Winston Churchill became prime minister in May 1940. Churchill realised straight away that it would be vitally important to enlist the United States as Britain's ally. Randolph Churchill, on the morning of 18th May, 1940, claims that his father told him "I think I see my way through.... I mean we can beat them." When Randolph asked him how, he replied with great intensity: "I shall drag the United States in." Churchill appointed William Stephenson as head of the British Security Coordination (BSC).
As William Boyd has pointed out: "The phrase (British Security Coordination) is bland, almost defiantly ordinary, depicting perhaps some sub-committee of a minor department in a lowly Whitehall ministry. In fact BSC, as it was generally known, represented one of the largest covert operations in British spying history... With the US alongside Britain, Hitler would be defeated - eventually. Without the US (Russia was neutral at the time), the future looked unbearably bleak... polls in the US still showed that 80% of Americans were against joining the war in Europe. Anglophobia was widespread and the US Congress was violently opposed to any form of intervention." An office was opened in the Rockefeller Centre in Manhattan with the agreement of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and J. Edgar Hoover of the FBI.
One of Stephenson's first recruits was David Ogilvy. This enabled the BSC to "penetrate" the Gallup organization. Ogilvy later recalled: "I had been moonlighting as advisor to the British government on American Public Opinion, but it was time I played a more active part... I could not have had a better boss than Dr. Gallup. His confidence in me was such that I do not recall his ever reading any of the reports I wrote in his name. Once he had worked out the methodology of the research, he lost interest and moved on to something new."
He was helped in this task by Hadley Cantril, who was secretly working for President Franklin D. Roosevelt. One of his tasks was to persuade Gallup from publishing polls considered harmful to the British. As Richard W. Steele has pointed out: "public opinion polls had become a political weapon that could be used to inform the views of the doubtful, weaken the commitment of opponents, and strengthen the conviction of supporters." William Stephenson later admitted: "Great care was taken beforehand to make certain the poll results would turn out as desired. The questions were to steer opinion toward the support of Britain and the war... Public Opinion was manipulated through what seemed an objective poll." According to Thomas E. Mahl, the author of Desperate Deception: British Covert Operations in the United States, 1939-44 (1998): "BSC persuaded Gallup... to drop the results of questions that reflected poorly on the British cause."
Michael Wheeler, the author of Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics: The Manipulation of Public Opinion in America (2007): "Proving that a given poll is rigged is difficult because there are so many subtle ways to fake data... a clever pollster can just as easily favor one candidate or the other by making less conspicuous adjustments, such as allocating the undecided voters as suits his needs, throwing out certain interviews on the grounds that they were non-voters, or manipulating the sequence and context within which the questions are asked... Polls can even be rigged without the pollster knowing it.... Most major polling organizations keep their sampling lists under lock and key."
From 1946 onwards he lived with his wife and young son as a farmer in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, close to the Amish community. However, it was not a success and in 1948 he joined forces with his brother to set up a New York City agency, Hewitt, Ogilvy, Benson & Mather (later Ogilvy & Mather) with capital of only $6,000. T. A. B. Corley has pointed out: "The late 1940s happened to be precisely the time when the American advertising scene appeared to be ripe for a shake-up. The United States economy was forging ahead at such a pace as to make sellers complacent about publicity. In consequence, those in the know deplored the general lack of creativity among the industry's practitioners. Advertisers chose to offer safe and uninspired copy rather than striving after originality and distinctiveness. Ogilvy and his American contemporary William Bernbach were credited with being the pioneers of that revolution."
Ogilvy's first great success came with his campaign for Hathaway Shirts, featuring a man with an eyepatch, Baron Wrangell. He accompanied that striking image with five paragraphs of detailed copy. Burt Helm has pointed out: "The result, an ad featuring a slender, haughty, mysteriously one-eyed male model in a white dress shirt accompanied by a lengthy description of the shirt's benefits, soon appeared in The New Yorker. American men were intrigued. Within a week, C.F. Hathaway's entire stock sold out." The campaign was selected by Advertising Age as 22nd on its list of the greatest ad campaigns of the 20th Century.
In 1953 Schweppes entered the soft-drinks market in North America. Ogilvy persuaded Schweppes' overseas director, Commander Edward Whitehead, to pose for the advertisements. It was such a success that Whitehead became the second most widely recognized Englishman in the United States, after Winston Churchill. In 1957 Ogilvy took over the Rolls-Royce account and created the famous phrase: "At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock", but once again he set out the car's bull points at length below this heading.
When Ogilvy read an early draft of The Quiet Canadian (1962) he requested that William Stephenson put pressure on H. Montgomery Hyde to remove all references to George H. Gallup and Hadley Cantril: "I beg you to remove all references to Hadley Cantril and Dr. Gallup... Dr. Gallup was and still is, a great friend of England. What you have written would cause him anguish - and damage. One does not want to damage one's friends... In subsequently years Hadley Cantril has done a vast amount of secret polling for the United States Government. What you have written would compromise him - and SIS (MI6) does not make a practice of compromising its friends."
Ogilvy's book, Confessions of an Advertising Man (1963), sold over 400,000 copies and made him the only advertising figure whose reputation went far beyond that of the industry. It included a great deal about his work with George H. Gallup. For example: "Dr. Gallup is a fountain of useful information on how people react to different kinds of commercials. He tells us that commercials which start by setting up a problem, then wheel up your product to solve the problem, then prove the solution by demonstration, sell to four times as many people as commercials which merely preach about the product. Dr. Gallup also reports that commercials with a strong element of news are particularly effective. So you should squeeze every drop of news value out of the material available for your commercials.... Dr. Gallup has discovered that the kind of photographs which win awards from camera clubs - sensitive, subtle, and beautifully composed - don't work in advertisements. What do work are photographs which arouse the reader's curiosity... He glances at the photograph and says to himself, What goes on here? Then he reads your copy to find out. This is the trap to set."
Ogilvy was appointed CBE in 1967 and in 1973 he retired as chairman of Ogilvy and Mather International, and moved to France, where he had bought a 60-bedroom Château de Touffou, near Poitiers. An autobiography, Blood, Brains and Beer, was published in 1978. In the book he argued that his advertising strategy began with the fundamental notion: "The consumer is not a moron. She is your wife. Try not to insult her intelligence". This was followed by the book, Ogilvy on Advertising (1983).
During the final year of his life Ogilvy suffered from Parkinson's disease, and he died at Château de Touffou on 21st July 1999. He was survived by his wife, and by his only son.
I had been moonlighting as advisor to the British government on American Public Opinion, but it was time I played a more active part... I could not have had a better boss than Dr. Gallup. His confidence in me was such that I do not recall his ever reading any of the reports I wrote in his name. Once he had worked out the methodology of the research, he lost interest and moved on to something new.
Dr. Gallup has discovered that the kind of photographs which win awards from camera clubs - sensitive, subtle, and beautifully composed - don't work in advertisements. What do work are photographs which arouse the reader's curiosity... He glances at the photograph and says to himself, "What goes on here? Then he reads your copy to find out. This is the trap to set.
Harold Rudolph called this magic element "story appeal," and demonstrated that the more of it you inject into your photographs, the more people will look at your advertisements. This discovery has had a profound effect on the campaigns produced by my agency.
When I worked for Dr. Gallup, I was able to demonstrate that moviegoers are more interested in actors of their own sex than in actors of the opposite sex. True there are a few exceptions to this rule: the female sex-kittens find great favour with male moviegoers and the lesbian stars do not appeal to men. But in general, people take more interest in movie stars with whom they can identify. In the same way, the cast of characters in most people's dreams contain more people of their own sex than of the opposite sex. Dr. Calvin Hall reports that "the male-female character ratio in male dreams is 1.7 to 1."
Dr. Gallup is a fountain of useful information on how people react to different kinds of commercials. He tells us that commercials which start by setting up a problem, then wheel up your product to solve the problem, then prove the solution by demonstration, sell to four times as many people as commercials which merely preach about the product. Dr. Gallup also reports that commercials with a strong element of news are particularly effective. So you should squeeze every drop of news value out of the material available for your commercials.
It is important to admit your mistakes and to do so before you are charged with them.
Tell the truth, but make the truth fascinating.
In 1951, on the way to an advertising photo shoot for a small shirt company based in Waterville, David Ogilvy picked up several eye patches at a drugstore for 50 cents each. "Just shoot a couple of these to humor me," he told the photographer. The result, an ad featuring a slender, haughty, mysteriously one-eyed male model in a white dress shirt accompanied by a lengthy description of the shirt's benefits, soon appeared in The New Yorker. American men were intrigued. Within a week, C.F. Hathaway's entire stock sold out.
"The Man in the Hathaway Shirt" became a national sensation, made Ogilvy famous, and epitomized what would become known as his trademark approach: stylish, alluring print ads that spoke directly about the product and its benefits. In The King of Madison Avenue: David Ogilvy and the Making of Modern Advertising, Kenneth Roman offers an entertaining and admiring portrait of the legendary figure behind what became Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, an agency that continues to have such prestigious clients as American Express (AXP) and Unilever (UN). Roman, who worked at Ogilvy's side from 1963 until 1989, rising from junior account executive to company chairman, paints the proudly Scottish ad man as a tireless worker driven by his taste for "lucre," as he termed it, a desire that proved a curse. The author sometimes dives too deep into advertising theory and offers a too lengthy argument for Ogilvy's lasting influence. But his many entertaining yarns delivered in spare prose are a pleasure to read.
Ogilvy left Oxford at 20 in 1931 in the midst of the Great Depression, taking a position in the kitchen at Paris' tony Hotel Majestic. It was the first in a motley series of occupations: By 1948, when he started his fledgling New York agency, Ogilvy had been a sous-chef, an advertising trainee, a door-to-door salesman for Aga stoves, a researcher for George Gallup of Americans' opinions about movie stars, an Amish-country farm owner, and, during World War II, a spy for British military intelligence. His cloak-and-dagger colleagues included Cary Grant, David Niven, and authors Noël Coward and Roald Dahl, and his boss was Sir William Stephenson, a man Ian Fleming would claim was the model for James Bond.