David Ogilvy, a British immigrant who didn’t immerse himself in advertising until he was 38, ended up being a seminal figure in the advertising revolution of the 50’s and 60’s.
As the king of information-dense copy, the charismatic rebel created memorable, enduring campaigns that transformed brands like Guinness, Rolls-Royce, Hathaway and many more.
He’s the subject of episode 2 of Craftsmen of Creativity, where we documented his highly unorthodox journey from Oxford drop-out to AGA salesman, then Parisian Chef and Amish tobacco farmer.
He even had a stint with British Intelligence during World War II, working undercover.
Though undoubtedly, one of the biggest influences on his career was George Gallup – who ran a research firm that taught Ogilvy the virtues of combining research and advertising to make it more professional. Indeed, he was known as a creative genius – which he was – but he was just as much a leader that catalysed an industry-wide shift away from how work was done.
He would state in a way you would never forget: “The consumer is not a moron, she’s your wife! Don’t insult her intelligence. You wouldn’t lie to your wife, don’t lie to mine.”
I AM BLIND
A story about him in The Idea Writers by Teressa Lezzi showcases his ability to use storytelling as a way of garnering empathy. And his genius.
One warm morning on his walk to work through New York, Ogilvy saw a beggar kneeling by the side of the street, unwashed, with long hair and a look of hopelessness strewn across his face. Around his neck was a sign with three words:
I AM BLIND
His cup was empty, and the man quite clearly wasn’t doing so well.
As opposed to walking by, Ogilvy stopped and thought for a second. How can I make this sign and man more appealing to those walking by?
He walked towards him and reached for his pocket. Rather than grabbing the rattling quarters lining his pockets, Ogilvy pulled out a marker. Grabbing the sign from the neck of the beggar he added 4 more words.
Ogilvy wished the man good luck and went on his way to the office to begin his day. As usual, it was packed with client meetings, creative reviews and preparations for a pitch for a big piece of business occurring later in the week.
As the day drew to a close, the temperature had dropped, and New Yorkers were making their way home, Ogilvy wondered how that man’s day had been. Some headed for the subway, others jumped in cabs. But Ogilvy walked back past that beggar from the morning to say hello.
His cup was full. Practically overflowing. The beggar, both thankful and confused in equal measure asked Ogilvy what he had written on the sign.
It is Spring and I am blind – he said.
The sign had worked.
Genius, wouldn’t you agree?
A small proportion of us are blind, but everyone has experienced Spring.
That transition from cold winter months toward a brighter, sunnier, and altogether happier period in the calendar year musters feelings of warmth inside.
Juxtapose these happy memories and thoughts with a man deprived of them and you have the perfect recipe for empathy.
Those 4 words lead people to open both their hearts and wallets to lend him a hand.