In February of 2010, (Yes, years ago but it was a great interview!) I had the chance to chat with author and former Ogilvy & Mather CEO, Ken Roman, at the invitation of my friend, Byrne Hobart. (I’m re-posting with some edits in January of 2023.)
What did we talk about?
Byrne and I, of course, grilled him on his tell-all book, The King of Madison Avenue: David Ogilvy and the Making of Modern Advertising.
Like a typical, turbo-charged CEO, Ken called into the conference line from the back of a yellow cab, while cruising around the snow covered curbs of Manhattan.
This is a book that tells…
The rest of the story about David Ogilvy
…the most famous advertising man in the world, from someone who worked shoulder-to-shoulder with him for decades.
More than just a book about Ogilvy, The King of Madison Avenue reveals the evolution of modern direct response advertising in the 20th Century.
Kenneth Roman has co-authored several acclaimed books including: How To Advertise and Writing That Works and he maintains an active speaking schedule.
Byrne Hobart has since moved into the world of finance and writes about inflections in finance and technology.
The highlights are mine.
Lawrence Bernstein: Hello, this is Lawrence Bernstein and today I have the privilege of being on the line with Kenneth Roman and Byrne Hobart. Kenneth Roman is the former CEO of Ogilvy and Mather and the co-author of How to Advertise and Writing That Work. Today, we are going to be talking to him about his most recent book, The King of Madison Avenue, David Ogilvy and the Making of Modern Advertising. And we are also on the line with Byrne Hobart of Blue Fountain Media. Blue Fountain Media is a boutique website development and online marketing firm located in New York and Byrne is a rare expert bridging both new media and classic direct response advertising — the kind that David Ogilvy helped to make famous.
Kenneth and Byrne, welcome to the call.
Kenneth Roman: Thank you very much, can I also add that Blue Fountain designed my website which is how I got involved in this whole thing and they did a terrific job for me.
Lawrence Bernstein: Well, that’s great. Thank you. I thought before we just dive into a couple of questions, we might just preface it by letting you tell us, Kenneth, a little bit about your work at present day.
Kenneth Roman: Well, I’m out spending a lot of time talking about the book. I just have done some work on the paperback edition, which is coming out in this spring and I’m thinking about what I’m going to do next.
Lawrence Bernstein: Do you want to lead with a question then, Byrne, and then I’ll follow up?
Byrne Hobart: Sure, so as I was reading the book, I noticed that Ogilvy goes back between the soft sell and hard sell traditions. Do you know which one he ended up settling on?
Kenneth Roman: The idea of soft sell verus hard sell is one that a lot of people in the business reject a little bit. David Ogilvy believed in only one thing and he really believed this passionately, which is, in selling, he did some of the classiest, most interesting advertising that’s ever been done from historic edit, but as he was proud of saying, “Every ad I ever wrote sold.”
Whether he was selling the man in the aristocratic eye patch for Hathaway shirts or the most famous headline in the car business, “At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock.” He said, “Every ad I ever wrote sold. And that came from his background. He came from a very eclectic background. He dropped out of school He had a bunch of strange jobs. One of which was selling Aga cookers, these high end cooking stoves, door to door to housewives in Scotland in the depths of the depression.
And as he said,
“I learned early on, no sale, no commission. No commission, no eat.”
That left a mark on me, but it turned him into a salesman, so even though he was doing very classy advertising, it was in good taste, very classy. He said, “Ever ad I ever wrote sold.” So he would, I know hard sell or soft sale.
Lawrence Bernstein: That segues into my question, Kenneth and Byrne, about one of the ad men I’ve always been fascinated with, Rosser Reeves. I enjoyed the sub-story in the book about the relationship between David Ogilvy and Rosser Reeves. As most know, Rosser Reeves coined the term, “the unique selling proposition, ” and that he was one of the early pioneers of television advertising.
Most don’t know he was an incredibly strong chess player and even reached the rank of master. He and I even served on the same corporate board at the Marshall Chess Club, albeit in different generations. Let me read one quick passage from page 118 as it relates to Rosser.
And it starts, “Ogilvy always acknowledged his debt to Reeves. In one testimonial placing him in the direct line of apostolic succession from Claude Hopkins. In 1938, you gave me a typed copy of the Hopkins book. It changed my life. I know it by heart. Every year I give away 20 copies to wordsmiths, they never comprehend.” And here’s another one on the following page.
“Rosser taught me that the purpose of advertising is to sell the product and he taught me how to sell. Some people tell you that that Rosser and I were rivals even enemies, I was his disciple.” What else can you tell us, Kenneth, about the ongoing relationship of Rosser Reeves and David Ogilvy, who were at one time brothers in law?
Kenneth Roman: That’s a terrific question because it was a very complicated changing relationship. David married Rosser’s sister-in-law, so for a while they were brothers-in-law. And then, as David acknowledges when he came to New York, Rosser mentored him. And he interviewed him. They used to have lunch and Rosser would talk to him about advertising.
See, Ogilvy didn’t learn much from academia, he sought out smart people and interrogated them and he remembered everything. But then they were rivals for a while. And then at one point after he divorced Rosser’s sister-in-law, they were enemies for a while. But in the end, David always acknowledged his debt to Rosser. But it was a funny relationship too.
They were always putting each other down. For example, like one point Rosser wrote a book, called Reality in Advertising, which is a terrific book, where he outlines the U.S.P. (unique selling proposition) And Rosser said, “You know, David, I’ve given my papers to the Minnesota historical society.” And David said, “Congratulations, Rosser, that’s wonderful news. I wish I could do that, but I can’t.”
And Rosser said, “Why not?” And he said, “I’ve given my papers to the Library of Congress.” And you know, Rosser would go off and they would go to a big advertising convention. Rosser would go to Jamaica and develop this deep tan and he put on a white suit, all white suit and he came into the convention just looking resplendent.
And then Ogilvy would upstage him by wearing a kilt. They were always doing that kind of stuff. But it was a funny relationship, but David acknowledge his debt to Rosser in that way.
Byrne Hobart: Lawrence and I were discussing this before you got on the call — we’re both really impressed with the depth of the research you’ve done, especially since you’ve also knew David Ogilvy and would have been able to have a lot of information at your finger tips already. What was the most surprising thing you found out when you did the research?
Kenneth Roman: Well, that’s another thoughtful question. When I started out, I knew I had a terrific subject. There’s no question in my mind about that. And I kept on debating whether I should really write a book. Ogilvy had written three books and told his story and interviews and everything else. Was there anything else left to be told?
And I finally decided I would take it on. I said, I could do two or three things he couldn’t do. I could bring alive his idiosyncratic personality. I could place him in advertising history. You know how important really was he? And I could give a sense of his quotable kind of brilliance.
And so I started doing the research and I spent eight days in the Library of Congress going through 30,000 papers and let me tell you, that was interesting. And I visited his homes and I went through other files. I did other research and what emerged is very interesting.
The story he told was essentially correct, but not quite. David was an actor in his personality. He dressed for his parts. He had a dramatic flair in his presentation and he embellished things, so the stories were almost true, but not quite. For example, he always said, “I was thrown out of Oxford.” He said, “I was sent down. I failed every exam. It was the worst mistake of my life.”
Well, I went through the files at Oxford and there is no evidence that he failed any exams and no evidence that he was thrown out. He dropped out. You know, he was bored, he didn’t really like academia. He didn’t know what he wanted to study, but that doesn’t make a very good line in saying, “I was sent down. It was the worst mistake.”
He also said things like, “I made a list of five clients I wanted most: Lever Brothers, General Foods, Shell, Bristol Myers and so forth.” So, when I went through his files and found his target list, there were really 19 clients on it. The first one on the list wasn’t Shell or General Foods, it was Cunard Lines — a tiny account — and some of the other names that he mentioned weren’t on the list.
But he would embellish, like an actor, he wanted to give himself better lines. That was a surprising thing, to find out that this character aspect of being dramatic in everything he did even carried over into telling his own life story.
Lawrence Bernstein: I was going to add to that, Kenneth, you were recounting from the chapter titled, “I Failed Every exam.” I was a bewildered, why would somebody with such perfect characteristics for Oxford , decide to drop out and you point out at the end of the chapter that Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, and Bill Gates never finished university and numerous other high achievers like them. You mentioned the dramatic effect of Ogilvy which I find entertaining. Is there a quirky element that’s attached to genius that just doesn’t let guys like that sit still and they have to get out into the world?
Kenneth Roman: I don’t know if it’s quirky or not, but I’ll tell you what I think the thing that made Ogilvy different from most other people is that he never stopped learning. He just didn’t like going to classes. He didn’t like going to schools, but he learned all his life. Even when he became the most famous advertising man in the world, he would never pontificate. He would never talk about what he did.
He would interrogate, people would say, I had dinner with David the other night and I sat next to him, and at the end of dinner he knew more about me than my mother does. He would ask questions. Tell me about this. Tell me about that. He read. He read about famous people and how they succeeded. He would seek out important people.
He sought out Marvin Bower, the guy who really built McKinsey and he would study with Marvin. How do you build an organization? How do you do this stuff? That’s different from most people for whom learning stops when they leave school.
Lawrence Bernstein: You suggested in a couple of passages in “The King of Madison Avenue” the idea bout snobbery. On page five, you mention that David Ogilvy liked to name drop and there are later passages about how that if somebody didn’t speak with just the right upper crust accent, then they were looked down upon. Was it really snobbery? Here in the States today, we’ve thrown off the British 200 years ago, and we’ll tolerate a lot of things, but we won’t tolerate snobbery. So was David Ogilvy really a snob or was this just part of the dramatic effect?
Kenneth Roman: Many of his personal relationships, yeah, he was a snob. But he would also make judgments about your intelligence from the way you wrote and spoke. But in his business dealings, he was totally different. He had no sense of class, race, religion, anything, none at all.
Byrne Hobart: One thing that I realized when I read the book and kind of, or read some other things by David Ogilvy was a lot of people still quote him and I’ve actually quoted him without knowing who I was quoting at the time. Are there any of his contemporaries who you think should be remembered in that way and should be quoted or referenced more?
Kenneth Roman: Very hard to pick anything out on that, Byrne, on who should be quoted. I’ll tell you what I think is important though is to pay attention to what David preached in terms of believing in research, believing in strategies. Believing in big ideas and most important, believing in results. Now, whether people quote anybody, it doesn’t make any difference, but the principles are important.
Before you start writing an ad, make sure you do your research, study the precedents, what went on before, look at all the research so that you swim in that kind of stuff. And then have a clear idea of the point you are trying to make of a clear strategy and then don’t settle for second best.
Make sure you have a big idea, a campaignable idea. An idea that will last for many years and then make sure you judge your ideas on the basis of their results in the market place as opposed to awards. That was David’s other great bugaboo, creative awards which are given on the basis of awards contests. Those are great fun to go to and interesting to look at a lot of ads, but why should you award things, how do awards get given?
They get awarded on the basis of humor and entertainment because people don’t know what the results are, so go for things that they like and that may or may not have any relationship on how successful they are. The most hated commercial in America, for many years — they used to run a poll of this in the newspaper — the most hated ad was the Mister Whipple “Don’t Squeeze the Charmin” campaign. Well, which was the largest selling toilet tissue in America? It was Charmin. So, Proctor and Gamble didn’t care whether people liked them, they really wanted to sell a lot of Charmin.
I’m not saying you have to have ugly ads, I’m just saying you have to judge things on the basis of their results in the market, so I wouldn’t say quote people. You don’t quote people. You try to understand what you’re trying to do. This is not a form of entertainment, it’s a form of selling. And the ads have to sell. If it were your money, what would you want?
You want an award or you want to sell your product?
Lawrence Bernstein: That’s reminiscent of Rosser Reeves’ line: “Do you want fine writing or do you want to see the goddamned sales curve stop moving down and start moving up?”
Kenneth Roman: Yeah, and Rosser also pushed it a little bit far into abrasive advertising. He really didn’t think advertising could sell unless it was a little bit abrasive as well. On the other hand, he wrote some terrific ads that sold very well and weren’t abrasive.
Lawrence Bernstein: One last point about Rosser and I think we’ll move on because I know Byrne has a couple more really good questions. On page 119 you mention Jeremy Bullmore who headed J. Walter Thompson, he mentions a copywriter who worked with both Rosser Reeves and with David Ogilvy.
And that copywriter said that the fundamental difference between them was philosophical. Ogilvy believed that “the consumer is not a moron, she’s your wife.” And Reeves believed that “she’s not your wife she’s an idiot,” so is that really fair to say about Reeves, or do you think that was a bit extreme as far as the copywriter’s assessment of him?
Kenneth Roman: Well, that guy is Gene Grayson who is a creative director at Ogilvy and I knew Gene quite well and I think what it was is a bit of overstatement on his part. I don’t think that Rosser thought that the consumer was an idiot, but I do think that David really believed and preached respect for the consumer.
Respect for the consumer!
He was really the first consumerist and before consumerism had a name he said, the consumer is not a moron, she’s your wife. You wouldn’t lie to your wife, don’t lie to mine. He preached respect for the consumer in many ways. That was the basic difference, it wasn’t that Reeves thought that the consumer was an idiot, but that Ogilvy really did think you could have advertising that was in good taste and sold a lot too.
He didn’t accept the dichotomy that it had to be abrasive or ugly.
Byrne Hobart: That leads into my next question. I was going to ask if his ideas were still relevant, and of course, you’ve addressed that one. But are there any companies or practices in marketing that you think reflect the ideas that Ogilvy had and that he propounded. Another way to put that would be, if he were getting into the business today, it wouldn’t necessarily be direct response, what would he be up too?
Kenneth Roman: Well, I know what he wouldn’t be up too. He wouldn’t be into anything digital or online because he didn’t understand anything in terms of new technology. He really didn’t even understand television. He owned the television set, but he didn’t know how to run it, didn’t know how to work it, but he didn’t even use a typewriter, let alone a computer which wasn’t around then. He wrote with freshly sharpened pencils in long hand.
So he never wrote a good television commercial, so I know he wouldn’t be doing that. What would he be doing? I think he would be working in direct response and direct marketing. He was very comfortable. He understood that. It was rational and he was a rational man, not an emotional man. Maybe he understood consumer’s emotions, I don’t know if he did or not.
But he really understood research and he believed in research so he would be trying to write ads, he would be trying to write direct response ads that pulled coupons and sold products in the mail and he would have somebody else write the direct response television commercials because he wouldn’t know how to do it.
Byrne Hobart: Do you think he would be still drawn to the same industries that he was when he was at the height of his powers and writing great advertising?
Kenneth Roman: Yeah. I think he was always more comfortable writing ads directly to people who were like his friends, so Schweppes Tonic, Hathaway Shirts, British Travel, Rolls Royce. He never was any good at packaged goods advertising with one big exception called, Dove Soap.
He came up with a basic proposition for Dove, which is ¼ cleansing cream that keeps your skin soft. He came up with that proposition, but the ads he wrote, the print ads that he wrote were pretty amateurish and he never wrote a television commercial for Dove, but he came up with that proposition. It was a sales proposition, but he couldn’t write the ads really.
One of the first ads had a lady sitting in the bathtub and she’s on the telephone, sitting in the bathtub and she said, “Hello darling, I’m head over heals in Dove.” They weren’t really packaged good ads and he didn’t understand that. And he was not a mass market guy by instinct.
He did a lot of terrific travel advertising for British Travel, the “Come to Britain ads.” Puerto Rico, Pablo Casals on the beach. He also came up with the idea, for Puerto Rico, of an arts festival and got Pablo Casals to be the host of that, to run that arts festival. To change the image of Puerto Rico. But again, it was a classy kind of a thing.
He got involved with the advertising for KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. When he had to go to General Foods, he was terrified. He didn’t know how to talk to those people. He did stand outside the coffee factory, the Maxwell coffee factory and say, gee, that coffee smells good. I wonder if it tastes as good as it smells. So, “Tastes as good as it smells” became a line for many years for Maxwell House coffee.
But he would be writing in the categories that he understood and that also goes over into how he traveled. He hated to fly. He was terrified of flying. He had to pour himself on a plane with a couple of drinks. But he preferred traveling to places where the British Empire had been. He loved going to India, to South Africa. He never went to Latin America. Never went to South America. He liked going where the British Empire had been. He was comfortable in those surroundings.
Lawrence Bernstein: About six months ago, Byrne recommended the book, The Art of Writing Advertising, and I really enjoyed the interview of Ogilvy.
In that interview, Ogilvy relates the story of writing an ad for Puerto Rico Economic Development and he admits to locking himself in his apartment for 10 days and doing nothing but write the “Now Puerto Rico Offers 100% Tax Exemption To New Industry.” And on page 94 in the “Big Ideas” chapter of your book, you mention that Ogilvy complained that he never got the credit that he felt he deserved for that ad.
And the basis of the story is when the governor of Puerto Rico says, we’ve got rampant unemployment, we’ve got poverty, the conditions are appalling and we desperately need industry, so he come sto David Ogilvy and aks, “What can you do for us?” And Ogilvy writes this home confinement ad in ten days and the ad is so successful there was a concern that they would turn the lovely island into an industrial park. So, it’s an example of an ad being almost to successful. Would you say that was among Ogilvy’s best print ads?
Kenneth Roman: It certainly would be among his top ads. As was said, he changed the image of an island, of a country. He called Puerto Rico “an island in renaissance.” And he did change the image of the island by bringin industry and tourism and he did, in fact, go to Teddy Moscoso who was running Puerto Rico at that time and say, you know, you are going to turn this place into Detroit.
Why don’t you run an arts festival like my native country Scotland did the with the Edinburgh Arts Festival? So he would put that right up there, but if you ask people, who did the Puerto Rico ads? Who changed the image of Puerto Rico? I don’t think 1-in-100 would say David Ogilvy. They would say, I don’t know who did it.
If you asked, who wrote, who created the Dove campaign? I mean, Dove is now the largest selling cleansing brand in the world. Who created that proposition? But if you talk about David Ogilvy, they would say, Hathaway Eye Patch, Rolls Royce, Schweppes Tonic. They don’t say Puerto Rico. They don’t say Dove. Those are huge successes, staggering successes. So he never really got credit for that ad in that sense. He doesn’t even get credit for Puerto Rico.
Byrne Hobart: You also mention here that he considered that the most important work that he had ever done — the campaign for Puerto Rico.
Kenneth Roman: Yeah, he was very proud of that and justly so.
Byrne Hobart: It’s fantastic. It’s got everything. You have to read about five or six paragraphs in before you find something that doesn’t site a numerical fact about why Puerto Rico is a superior place to locate a business.
Kenneth Roman: It was an enormous success and it was the idea that he came up with, but see, once again, it was print ad campaign, not a television campaign.
Byrne Hobart: So can you tell us any anecdotes about David Ogilvy that didn’t make it into the book, that you found interesting or amusing that just didn’t quite fit?
Kenneth Roman: Well, one of them was, he was a pretty good gardener. He knew the Latin names. He was walking in Savill Gardens in London in Windsor Great Park with a mutual friend and he stopped in front of a plant and he says to our mutual friend, “you know what that plant is?” He said, “it’s called Fremonto Dendrum Californicum. It was named for Freemont, the governor of California. I slept with his daughter.”
But my wife wouldn’t let me put that one in. There are so many, you could tell war stories forever about David. The thing about him is that he was fun. Absolutely fun and unpredictable, outrageous, idiosyncratic, but fun. I was sitting in an executive committee meeting after Ogilvy and Mather had bought a bunch of other companies including some other agencies. We bought Scali, McCabe, Sloves and also Cole and Weber and they are all operating under this banner called Ogilvy & Mather and some of these agencies didn’t like reporting to another advertising agency.
So, I said in a meeting, “Perhaps we should change the name of the parent company and have Ogilvy and Mather and Scali, McCabe, Sloves and Cole and Weber underneath.” And David looks across the table and says, “That’s a terrible mistake to change a company’s name.” And he slams his fists on the table. And he says, “I will fight it with ever ounce of my breath.” Bang! But he says, “If you do change it, you don’t need Mather.” But he was doing that all the time.
He was fun. He was funny. He didn’t tell jokes, except for one. It’s the only joke he ever told. We call it THE joke. He’d get up at an occasion where he’s getting an award for lifetime achievement, big black tie event. But he’d do it at all occasions and he’d look out over the audience and say, “Have you ever been in Tonga? Well, I have. It’s a small island in the Pacific. My wife and I have walked about on it and the people there, the natives, the big black natives, very big, especially the kings and the queens. So the King of Tonga comes to visit the Queen of England and she meets him at the station in a great carriage and they take off for Buckingham Palace.
And four gray great horses and the guardsman riding by them with their armor glinting in the sun and the flags are blowing in the wind and it’s quite a sight. And the horse immediately in front of them farts appallingly and this cloud comes over them and when it finally clears the queen says, “Oh, I’m so sorry about that.” And the King of Tonga says, “Oh, that’s all right. I thought it was the horse.”
Now, you have to imagine this at a big awards dinner so we would go to some other dinner and he would get up and speak and he would say, have you ever been in Tonga? And we would all say, “Oh no, David, don’t do it tonight.” But he would do it.
Byrne Hobart: What kind of advice would you give to someone who is getting into the business today based on what you’ve learned both researching Ogilvy and running the firm and working at the firm.
Kenneth Roman: Well, depends on what you want to do. If you want to be a copywriter. If you want to be an account executive, or a researcher. I mean, I loved my time in the advertising business. I was very lucky. I had a great time in the business. I learned a lot. It changed me as kind of a person. It gave me a lot of different values, that agency. So I would say, go to a great firm.
Great firm. It doesn’t make any difference what job you have. I tell people, young kids who are getting into advertising, or want to get in. I said, I would rather be the janitor at Proctor and Gamble than the marketing director of the Charlie Brown Shoe Company, because at Proctor and Gamble, it’s a very smart company and you learn things there.
You work for smart people and you learn things. So, don’t go for salary, don’t go for title. Go for a company that’s going to teach you, a great teaching organization. Ogilvy and Mather was one of those, so we did that pretty well.
And then try to work for smart people there and study. Do your homework. Get a job at Proctor and Gamble or a place like that. That’s a pretty good place to learn and if you want to stay here, you’ll be happy. If you don’t want to stay there and you show up at an advertising agency, the agency will say, “hey, we’ve got this bright guy or this bright girl who spent three years at Proctor and Gamble, well, that’s a person with some value.”
The clients will say, that’s terrific. Put that person to work on my business. David would say start in direct marketing because there you know if things work or they don’t work. And he said that for copywriters or for account people. Start in direct marketing. Start in digital marketing so you’ll learn new media. But start in direct marketing so that you can get a taste of what it’s like to sell things.
You don’t have to stay there. You might like it and stay there, but you don’t have to. You certainly ought to get some experience in digital media. Shelly Lazarus, who was one of my successors as chairman at Ogilvy and Mather did a terrific work for us. She was working on the American Express account as an account supervisor.
I went to her one day and I said, “Listen, Shelly, you’re doing great work here. You’re a star. What do you think you would like to do next, ‘cause I’m not going to guarantee it, but at least I would like to know so that we could help program your career.” I thought she would want to go work on or maybe run another account or a bigger account or be sent overseas. And she said, “No, I want to work on in the direct marketing division.” Well, that was a very interesting thing for her to do.
Because, the first thing she learned the direct marketing medium. The second thing, because it was quite a bit smaller than the main general agency, she had a chance to run it. She became president of the New York office of Ogilvy and Mather Direct, so she got management experience and she got direct marketing experience and those two things stood her in very good stead when she became chairman of Ogilvy and Mather.
So, go to a place where you can learn. Get some direct marketing experience. Get some digital experience. Work for an organization that teaches you. We put a lot of time into training programs. Now, look, this is all a bit idealistic, because I was in the business a long time ago. The business has changed. I’ve not been in it recently for some years, but financial pressures on the business are just awful and it’s hard for me to relate to that.
And people can’t invest in the business the way they used to. Clients are, in many cases, short-sighted by squeezing their agencies and Ogilvy would say, you’re looking through the wrong end of the telescope. Instead of cutting agencies fees, increase them, you’ll get better work.
But in many cases now, clients are buying the advertising, not by the advertising director or the marketing director but by the purchasing department or the procurement department who are only interested in the numbers. Well, how do you measure the value of an idea? I would say go for an organization, well, I think I covered it, but go for a great organization that will teach you.
Lawrence Bernstein: Who wrote the those magnificent house ads: “How To Create Advertising That Sells,” “How To Create Financial Advertising That Sells” and the whole series that lasted for over ten years.
Kenneth Roman: Those house ads, as we’ve called them, the first one, “How To Create Advertising That Sells,” was based on what David called his magic lantern which was a slide and film presentation that was required viewing for every new person in the agency. He put up a slide that shows here is the product, here was the problem. Here was the strategy. Here was the research. Here was the ad. And then here is the result and here is the principle that came out of it, 15, 20, 30 principles, whatever it was.
The actual ad was written, I believe, by Joel Raphaelson, who collaborated with me on a book and also helped me on this book. So, that was the first one, “How To Create Advertising That Sells.” It was a huge hit. We were getting requests for reprints for that ad for ten years after it ran. People put it up on their walls.
The following ads for example, new products, financial those were basically written in outline by somebody in the agency who had some expertise so that the General Foods group, my group, did one on food advertising. We did one on coffee advertising. Some of the people in the travel worked on KLM and British Travel and Puerto Rico. They did one on travel advertising.
The guys who worked on Merill-Lynch did one on financial advertising. The guys who did one on in the General Foods, we did one on new products, how to introduce new products, people who were doing our advertising for Mattel did one on children’s advertising and we kept on expanding these things, but the principle of taking the trouble to write down what you know was a great thing for training our people.
And I got to tell you, it was a terrific new business tool as well, so Joel Raphaelson helped write most of them, put them into sensible copy, but David Ogilvy himself did the basic work which was for his magic lantern.
Lawrence Bernstein: There was a derivative series in the Wall Street Journal after all of those magnificent house ads of O&M’s and it was a campaign to promote the Wall Street Journal called “The Wall Street Journal…It Works.” WSJ would invite an agency to elaborate its principles and tell what works and what doesn’t work and they might, for example, have Foote, Cone Belding or another agency in effect partner with them for this campaign. But the road had really been paved by the O&M house ads years earlier.
Kenneth Roman: There’s another story that grows out of that. That Wall Street Journal campaign was a first class campaign and you are absolutely right to observe that. Some years later, I was sitting and meeting with a client and we were going through a television commercial, a story board and with the little pictures and video and the audio and the client. We had been working on that really hard.
It was a very important campaign. We’d present the commercial to the client. We were waiting and waiting and waiting and he says, okay, could in frame six, could the lady say this instead of that? I said, come on. The lady could say, Mary had a little lamb and it wouldn’t make any difference. People pay attention to the pictures. You got to pay attention to the video.
I realized he didn’t know how to critique a television commercial. Our clients were really pretty good at print ads, but they weren’t so hot at television. I said, we’ve got to write down what clients should look, what advertisers should look for in a television commercial. So, I wrote down some things that I knew and I showed it to a creative director and I said, you know, we could put something together here.
We could do something on outdoor, something on print and we could do a little book here. That’s how my first book got written, it was essentially, a house ad in book form called How to Advertise. But it was basic principles of advertising. What works and what doesn’t and why.
There’s a cute story that goes along with it. I got a publisher and he said, this is quite good, but you need a forward. Nobody knows who you are, but could David Ogilvy write a forward? So I sent it off to David who was living in France and I said, “David, my publisher thinks this is quite a good book, but would you mind looking at it and see if you could write a little forward saying if you think it’s any good or not.”
I said, “I’m not very happy with my title, if you have any ideas or any better titles, let me know.” He sent me back a note and he said, he sent back the manuscript and marked up every page. And he said, “It was said of my friend Marvin Bowers, the great man who ran Mckinzie, if you sent him an engraved invitation to a wedding, he’ll return it to you edited. I’m returning your manuscript with my sub-editings. The title of my next book was going to be How to Advertise. If you like it, you may have it and use it. I will try my hand at a forward and send it to you within 10 days. If you like it, you may use it and edit it.”
So, of course, he gave me the title for the book as well, How to Advertise. Then many years later I’m walking down the street in London with him and he says, “By the way, I’m writing another book.” I said, “Really, David, on what?” And he said, “On advertising, that’s all I know.” He said, “Do you have any titles left over?” And I said, “No.” I reminded him he had given me the title, but I said, “The title of your next book is easy.” And he said, “What do you mean?” And I said, “Well, David, you are the most famous advertising man in the world, you should be the title. It should be David Ogilvy on Advertising.”
He said, “You think so?” And I said, “Yeah.” So that became Ogilvy on Advertising. So he gave me the title for my book and I gave him the title for his.
Byrne Hobart:: What do you think of some of the more recent Ogilvy and Mather campaigns? Some of the ones since Ogilvy left and since you left?
Kenneth Roman: I’ll tell you a couple I admire, I think they continue to evolve the Dove advertising very successfully. They are keeping the idea of taking care of your skin — a very consistent image. So, I think the Dove advertising is and remains outstanding. I think the American Express advertising remains very strong. I spent some time watching over that account.
So, I think that’s quite good. And I think their new ad, their advertising over the years for IBM that’s an account I never worked with, but came after I left has been brilliant, both the television and the print. So, I think there are some very strong campaigns.
Those three stand out for me. And I think the agency continues to be a very strong agency, although the pressure on the whole agency business is very tough and I don’t think, as I said before, I don’t think very productive in getting advertising that advertisers need. Maybe they’ll change, who knows.
Lawrence Bernstein: I want to thank both of you, Kenneth and Byrne, for making the time and I really enjoyed getting together today.
Kenneth Roman: Thank you for taking the time and, Byrne, thank you for putting this together.
Peter Geisheker of The Geisheker Group Marketing Firm says
Outstanding interview. My point of view, as learned from studying David Ogilvy, is that the purpose of advertising is to sell. It is an investment and it should produce a return on investment.
The Geisheker Group Marketing Firm
I’ve been reading your site for the last year, but first time commenting. Love it and your historical perspective.
Great job on the interview. It was the first thing i read this morning and was a great way to start my day. So many nuggets in there. One particular one i enjoyed was his reference to Claude Hopkins as well as life long learning.
I’m just finishing reading Hopkins “My life in advertising”, and have both Ogilvy’s “confessions” and “on advertising” in the que. I guess i need to add Kens book “king of madison ave” as well as his own “How to advertise” to my list.
Thanks James, Ken’s book is a keeper and you’ll love it.
Great interview. Thanks Lawrence. I can’t wait to read the book.
I think the whole academia vs quitting academia thing is over-blown. It simply means that academia deals with matters that are tried, tested and proven, However, this can stifle independent thinking, not only of copywriters, like Ogilvy, but entrepreneurs. Such individuals need to break out of the formalism that academia offers, which is fine. You just have to know its limitations. It is interesting to note the Ogilvy was perennially curious; such an important character trait to one who needs to know his clients’ customers.
Reeves’ book is fantastic. I reckon that Reeves and Ogilvy present different perspectives on the same matter.
Acknowledging James’ point, I was astounded “My life in advertising”. I think it is is in some ways better than “Scientific Advertising”. Perhaps a better way to frame it is to state that My Life adds the flesh to Scientific Advertising. Ogilvy comments that one should not have anything to do with advertising until he has read Scientific Advertising seven times. I recall a comment that Jay Abraham made, in which he stated he has read Scientific Advertising more than 50 times!
The bottom line, though, is the bottom line. In Reeves’s words, does the advertising make the %^&* sales curve turn up or not?
Can someone share David Ogilvys famous line about he wasn’t sure what part of his advertisng worked or didn’t work.
Im trying to incorprate it in a client presentation Im doing.
Barry L. Tannenholz says
@jim: I’m probably too late with this piece of information. But Ogilvy was quoting the great merchant John Wanamaker, who reputedly said, “Half of the advertising I run doesn’t work. The problem is I don’t know which half.” This remark has been attributed to others as well.
Olu Emma says
I bumped into this piece today, this is one of the best stuff I have read about “Direct Response Marketing”.
Jean Petit Mathe says
Thank you all of you ken, Lawrence and Byrne.
And thank you to repost it. Its advices are as useful today as ten years ago
especially the importance of being a lifetime learner as David, of working with the best people from whom you can learn from.
Jean Petit Kasereka Mathe