If you are a Mad Man, you know David Ogilvy, the late master of Madison Avenue and prime inventor of modern advertising. If you’re not a Mad Man or you are a young and inexperienced Mad Man, then I’d like to point you to Ogilvy’s short, wise, and entertaining book, Confessions of an Advertising Man. Ogilvy is a first rank narcissist, as he would have told you, and the book reflects all that glory and confusion. He is large. He contains multitudes. He contradicts himself. In Ogilvy, it all works; your mileage will most definitely vary.
Ogilvy demonstrates the great tension in practical persuasion: Art versus Science! Or as Miller Beer put it, Tastes Great versus Less Filling! In practice you will do both Art and Science with persuasion; you cannot help it. You may protest One over the Other, but you will do both as Ogilvy demonstrates.
I started my career in research with the great Dr. Gallup at Princeton. Then I became an advertising copywriter. My Last Will and Testament (p. 25)
Exactly why it turned out to be so successful, I shall never know.
So, Ogilvy is trained as a scientist under Gallup, yet cannot explain his greatest success. How much science does he have?
He will rail against “academic” jargon in marketing reports, yet require the “discipline of knowledge” finding a distinction without a difference for me between the products from Academe versus those from Knowledge.
Interestingly to me is how similar his methods of operation were to Richard Wagner. I’ll just briefly headline his key point from building an agency.
- targeted 5 Blue Chip advertisers (clients) as ultimate goals.
- invited 10 trade journalists to lunch, listened to their advice on how to succeed, then sent them PR kits for everything.
- Bernays advised to make no more than 2 speeches a year. Speeches aimed at creating buzz on Madison Avenue. Created a fund with 10k to invent a college of advertising with licensing. Created buzz that caused him to get quoted.
- made friends with people doing business with potential clients.
- sent progress reports (direct mail) to 600 people in the Business.
- worked 72 hours a week.
- took any client that called, but dressed the part for those 5 Blue Chips.
- conducted pilot research on targeted clients and shared it with them.
Where Wagner actually had to build a network, Ogilvy identified the network he wanted to dominate, then followed all of the steps that Wagner employed to sell himself. The resemblance is uncanny and stands as a great and simple lesson for self promotion (or company promotion – see all those Web 2.0 persuasion plays). It’s really that simple.
For me, what Wagner and Ogilvy describe is what I call the Cool Table. Whether the Cool Table knows Truth, Beauty, or Justice is less important than that they are Cool. When you are Cool and at the Table, your definition of Truth, Beauty, or Justice is likely to dominate or at least make money or reputation or both. If you wish to dominate or at least attain whatever, how do you make the Cool Table? Strategic Self Presentation which is persuasion directed at making your self appear Cool. Consider the strategic outcomes from Ogilvy’s tactics with new clients.
Ogilvy’s Rules for Selecting New Clients:
1. Only advertise products which you are proud to be associated with, never advertise a product that you don’t respect and don’t like.
2. Never advertise for a company that you feel has better advertising than you can offer.
3. Never advertise for a company that has had failing sales for a long period of time. This normally means that the advertising will not help the sales.
4. Make sure that the client understands that the advertising agency has to make money as well; don’t make the client money while losing money from your own company.
5. Question any account that would not be very profitable. If it gives you a chance to show off your skills to other potential clients, then take the account.
6. Always find the motive for the client switching agencies, if he was let go from the previous agency, find out why.
7. Do not take clients that put little importance in advertising.
8. Never advertise for a product that is not yet on the market.
9. Never take associations as clients.
10. Only give in to the demand that a person be hired if you get the account if you feel that the person is capable of doing good work for your company.
You are going to work hard and deliver the best effort you can. But realize that everyone else offers pretty much the same package. Ogilvy took a longer and more strategic perspective on his work. He realized that his client’s prestige (where they sat at the Cool Table) could vastly speed up his own ascent. Rather than take any good client, Ogilvy always sought the Cool Client, the one who would multiply the impact of Ogilvy’s work. If we are all doing our best and delivering a great product, then we all reach the finish line together. If you want to get ahead of everyone else, you need a strategy. Realize that Ogilvy’s Rules for Client Selection provide exactly that.
A posthumous Peitho Award for Mr. Ogilvy!