I finished “The King of Madison Avenue” by Kenneth Roman, a few months ago. The book is probably the most comprehensive (and accurate) biography of David Ogilvy ever written. I’ve been meaning to turn a couple of the choicest, dog-eared pages into blog posts for some time now. I still plan to do that, specifically around his views on the importance of good writing in the creative industry, but for the time being I thought I’d just pull a couple of quotes out of the book that I thought were especially compelling.
“Search your parks in all your cities, you’ll find no statues of committees. Committees can criticize design (advertisements), but they cannot create them.”
On showing multiple options to clients:
Points were made memorable by vivid metaphor. Discussing which of two concepts to show the client first, Ogilvy told the creative team:
“When I was a boy, I always saved the cherry on my pudding for last. Then, one day, my sister stole it. From then on, I always ate the cherry first. Let’s play the best commercial first.” The client liked the first commercial.
On trying to be clever or sarcastic:
“Facetiousness in advertising is a device dear to the amateur but anathema to the professional, who knows that permanent success has rarely been built on frivolity and that people do not buy from clowns.”
In defense of rules:
“Even the copywriter and the layout man who regard their work as art rather than science can take comfort from the fact that obedience to sonata and sonnet form did not noticeably cramp the styles of Mozart and Shakespeare.”
“If you hire people who are smaller than you are, we shall become a company of dwarfs. If you hire people who are bigger than you are, we shall become a company of giants.
“Compromise has no place in design (advertising). Whatever you do, go the whole hog.”
“The consumer is not a moron. She is your wife. Don’t insult her intelligence.”
“When people aren’t having any fun, they seldom produce good work. Get rid of sad dogs who spread gloom.”
On the importance of writing:
“It did not escape our notice that everyone in the upper levels of Ogilvy knew how to write – and write very well, ” said the head of an agency acquired by O&M. Asked what was different from BBDO, where he had worked for 20 years, Jock Elliott said “We write down what we know and believe.” Ogilvy was, above all, a writer, and his agency had a writing culture. He wrote like an angel, rhapsodized David McCall. “Even his memoranda were worth saving.”
On what makes a great advertising (design) man:
“I once asked King George’s surgeon what makes a great surgeon. He replied, “A great surgeon knows more than other surgeons.” It is the same with advertising people; the good ones know more about advertising.”
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