He was a 38 year old college dropout, hungry and unemployed.
Farming didn’t pay the bills, his days as an apprentice chef were over, and being a door to door salesman was no longer an option.
David Ogilvy shuffled down a barren side-street, hands in his pockets, his eyes glazed over in deep contemplation.
He felt every bit as empty as the path he was walking on.
Or so you’d think.
The truth is, David Ogilvy was a dreamer, and his blank, glazed over look was far from the detached apathy you’d expect from an almost 40 year old unemployed man.
He was dreaming, planning and carefully calculating his next move.
Age made no difference, and money only served as extra incentive; cannon fodder in his relentless pursuit of a happy, inspired life.
On that inspired evening in 1948, David Ogilvy started a marketing agency called Ogilvy and Mather, a company he’d later sell for just under $1 billion.
Mr. David Olgilvy in Ye Olde Pub
67 years later, I had the pleasure of meeting the Father of Advertising, in a humble pub called Ye Olde something or other — I’ve completely forgotten the name to be honest.
Despite not caring about the name of the pub in the slightest, I knew Ogilvy’s name well.
He ignored me completely.
Who can blame him? He was there to forget work, not talk about it. And there I was, cocky little teenage shmuck, boldly demanding the attention of the greatest adman America has ever known.
But somehow, at some point in the night, something changed.
Maybe I reminded him of a younger version of himself. Maybe it was the drinks I kept buying him.
Either way, by our third or fourth brandy, he pleasantly obliged.
The first piece of advice he gave me was about how brandy helps him write better.
That was the only piece of advice that didn’t work well for me.
I feel like a Shakespearean rockstar when I write with a few glasses of wine sloshing around in my bowels. But the next morning, when life pimpslaps a fresh dose of reality across my pounding head, I realize my lovely moonlight sonata of iambic pentameter is, in all honesty, drunken Dr. Seuss rubbish.
But again, that’s the only advice I can’t recommend with a good conscious.
The following is my correspondence with the man, myth and marketing legend, David Ogilvy.
David, it’s an absolute pleasure to meet you. It’s just unbelievable that you’d accept an interview at such late notice, so thank you.
My first question — how did you manage to pave your way from jobless, over the hill college dropout, to brilliant copywriter and marketer now known as the Father of Advertising?
“Remember that Abraham Lincoln spoke of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. He left out the pursuit of profit.
After watching the careermanship of my own employees for 14 years, I have identified a pattern of behavior which leads rapidly to the top.
First, you must be ambitious, but you must not be so nakedly aggressive that your fellow workers rise up and destroy you.
Tout soldat pone dans sa giberne le baton de marechal.
Yes, but don’t let it stick out.
Right. I don’t speak pig latin fluently, so I missed that last part, but I can get behind the happiness bit.
To dig a little deeper into the pursuit of happiness, what advice can you give us from your personal experience?
Firstly, broaden your horizons by going abroad… But don’t travel so much that you come back cross and exhausted.
Also:Don’t stay at home and putter around the house. You need a change of scene. Take your wife, but leave the children with a neighbor… Shut yourself off from exposure to advertising. Take a sleeping pill every night for the first three nights. Get plenty of fresh air and exercise. Read a book every day — 21 books in three weeks.
Wow. You travel, quote Abe Lincoln, speak multiple languages, read more than any sane person I know, and you’ve been kind enough to interview with me in your leisure time.
No doubt about it Dave, you’re a rare breed.
What one thing would you teach a young marketer who wants to work effectively, but with integrity?
“Never write an advertisement which you wouldn’t want your family to read. You wouldn’t tell lies to your own wife. Don’t tell them to mine.
Moving from moral character to marketing character:
Going off of your success, I’m guessing you’re a brilliant team player like most successful marketers?
Nowadays it is the fashion to pretend that no single individual is ever responsible for a successful advertising campaign.This emphasis on ‘team-work’ is bunkum — a conspiracy of the mediocre majority. No advertisement, no commercial, and no image can be created by a committee. Most top managements are secretly aware of this, and keep their eyes open for those rare individuals who lay golden eggs.
I’ll admit, that’s a bit of a surprise. What about the copywriting side of things — you certainly have a healthy appreciation for the written word.
What can you tell us about the craftsmanship behind your copy?
“Well I don’t know the rules of grammar… If you’re trying to persuade people to do something, or buy something, it seems to me you should use their language, the language they use every day, the language in which they think.
Good copy can’t be written with tongue in cheek, written just for a living. You’ve got to believe in the product.
Also, the best ideas come as jokes. Make your thinking as funny as possible.
One thing I’ve noticed about your ads is how easy they are to read, and how they relate to me almost personally sometimes.
How do you manage that?
I don’t address my readers as though they were gathered together in a stadium. When people read your copy, they are alone. Pretend you are writing to each of them a letter on behalf of your client.
At this point, I was thoroughly warmed up.
Green Eggs and Brandy
I belted down the last of my drink, ordered three more, and turned to rapid-fire a string of interviewing brilliance at the Father of Advertising.
But he was gone.
“Who are you talking to buddy?”
The bartender stood there, genuinely confused and equally concerned.
“He must not have recognized him,” I thought.
“I was just interviewing David Ogilvy” I replied, with a slurred air of self-righteousness. “He prolly has gone to the bathroom…”
“Ogilvy died over a decade ago.”
I looked at the empty seat next to me.
Then I looked at the row of empty glasses in front of me.
Surely I wasn’t the only one…
The next morning, life smacked a fresh dose of reality into my throbbing head, and I realized that my Sistine Chapel — my Michelangelo masterpiece of an interview was nothing more than a few well-placed Ogilvy quotes scrawled on a brandy-stained napkin.
“Green eggs and ham,” I mumbled.
If Seuss can publish drunken nonsense, so can I — at very least, it’s worth a try.
Because like it or not, success always goes to the dreamer who lives out the dream.
The Pursuit of Happiness and a Few Millionaire Examples
Like Ogilvy, we should relentlessly pursue the happy, inspired sort of life that can only be captured when the dream is there, and nothing can get between you and it.
Money didn’t phase him. Age didn’t phase him. Unemployment didn’t phase him and failure didn’t phase him.
And he’s not the only one.Stan Lee, the millionaire mastermind behind Spiderman and X-Men, was a complete no-name until he created The Fantastic Four, a few weeks before his 39th birthday. Samuel Jackson didn’t land anything beyond bit parts until he turned 43. His tipping point was Spike Lee’s “Jungle Fever”, where he landed an award-winning role that led to many subsequent leading roles. Henry Ford went bankrupt twice before building his revolutionary masterpiece, the Model T, at age 45. Ray Kroc was a serial job-hopper who couldn’t hold down a career to save his life. He lost all of his money and then some in an attempt to flip land in Florida. He had to sell paper cups to make a living. He tried and failed, and tried and failed, and failed, failed, failed — until finally, at the age of 52, he hit the tipping point. That was when he started McDonalds.
It took Ogilvy and the others 38-52 years to reach the success tipping point. How long will it take you?
If you know an Ogilvy quote we didn’t cover, share it in the comments!
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*Please note that while this interview is wholly, completely, entirely, unconditionally, and irrevocably fictional, every nugget of marketing wisdom did come directly from Ogilvy.
We just weren’t drinking in a pub when he shared them.
Here’s where he said it: