Back to the Classics: David Ogilvy: All Pipe, No Tobacco

Back-to-the-Classics-Masthead-MCarpentermark-carpenter-2014-150x150Unfortunately, no study of Bill Bernbach’s Creative Revolution is complete without discussing David Ogilvy. He was more famous than Bernbach (mostly because of his big mouth), but not a tenth as talented.

Everyone knows his story — Ogilvy was the uppity Brit copywriter who founded Ogilvy & Mather in 1949 (the same year that BIll Bernbach opened Doyle Dane Bernbach), wrote a couple of best-selling books on advertising and created some overrated print ads for obscure clients like Hathaway shirts and Schweppes tonic water.

Hathaway Ad

I use the word “unfortunately” because I’ve never been a big Ogilvy fan. He tried to insinuate himself into the Creative Revolution but never really belonged to it. Ogilvy made rules, Bernbach broke them. In his book “Ogilvy on Advertising,” he declared that every ad should feature a photo at the top of the page, a 10-word headline underneath it and several paragraphs of copy below that. It was this kind of tedious orthodoxy that Bill Bernbach shattered so joyfully (and effectively).

Don’t get me wrong, I respected Ogilvy’s dedication to communicating the product benefit, but in the end, he was a one-trick pony. His haughty, gaseous copywriting style was only effective for selling luxury items in highbrow magazines. Ogilvy couldn’t write the way people talked — at least people who didn’t live in the Hamptons and owned sailboats. His work in TV and radio was deadly dull and completely forgettable. If he was alive today, the rigors of writing for social media would send him to the emergency ward.

If you’ve never read any of Ogilvy’s books or advertising, he can best be summed up by one of his own quotes — “Our business is infested with idiots who try to impress by using pretentious jargon.”

The irony.

Column written by Mark Carpenter, AAF Omaha Board Member & Co-Chair Nebraska ADDYs Committee.


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