David Ogilvy

Father of Advertising, David Ogilvy

Born in England, raised in Scotland, settled in the States, David Ogilvy’s colourful life saw him go from failed Oxford student to apprentice chef in Paris and an eventual return to Scotland to work as door-to-door stove salesman. It was his success in this last role that was perhaps a clue to his calling as an advertising genius. His success as a salesman saw him produce an instruction manual, “The Theory and Practice of Selling the AGA Cooker” – a guide for his contemporaries. A copy of this manual found its way to London advertising agency, Mather & Crowther who offered the post of account executive to the young Ogilvy.

Ogilvy relocated to America and during WWII he acted as a diplomacy and security consultant to the Eisenhower administration. After the war, he settled on a farm in Pennsylvania amongst the Amish where he lived with his wife for many years before eventually relocating to bustling Manhattan.

Ogilvy is credited with transforming the world of advertising with a combination of natural instinct, rigorous research and a fierce focus on the customer. In marketing circles his Rolls-Royce campaign is a case study in perfect direct marketing.

He is believed to be the inspiration for Mad Men’s Don Draper.

David Ogilvy’s Rules of Success

  1. Work hard. Ogilvy famously said, “Hard work never killed a man. Men die of boredom, psychological conflict, and disease. They do not die of hard work… I dislike passengers who don’t pull their weight in the boat.” He drew a concrete connection between hard work and profit.
  2. Surround yourself with intelligent people. “I admire people with first-class brains because you cannot run a great advertising agency without brainy people”. Ogilvy went on to say, “If you ever find a man who is better than you are – hire him. If necessary, pay him more than you pay yourself”.
  3. Love what you do, don’t settle. “I admire people who work with gusto. If you don’t enjoy what you are doing, I beg you find another job. Remember the Scottish proverb, ‘Be happy while you’re living, for you’re a long time dead'”.
  4. Treat people as human beings. Surprisingly, in an industry with a cutthroat reputation, Ogilvy exhibited deep empathy and equanimity to those around him, “I admire people with gentle manners who treat other people as human beings. I abhor quarrelsome people.” He goes on to say, “I despise toadies who suck up to their bosses; they are generally the same people who bully their subordinates.”
  5. Do what you say you will do. Deliver what you say you will, when you say you will.
  6. Take your leadership responsibilities seriously. As the head of an international, successful agency, Ogilvy identified his role as follows:
    • To win new accounts;
    • To win the trust of clients at the highest level;
    • To make as much profit as possible for the benefit of the agency and its staff;
    • To anticipate future changes;
    • To recruit the best people at all levels of the organisation;
    • To build the best agency business;
    • To get the most out of every person in the agency.


  • “Don’t bunt. Aim out of the ball park. Aim for the company of immortals.”
  • (He saw the rise of content marketing) “There is no need for advertisements to look like advertisements. If you make them look like editorial pages, you will attract about 50 per cent more readers… The more informative your advertising, the more persuasive it will be.”
  • “The consumer isn’t a moron; she is your wife.”

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