After re- reading “Ogilvy on Advertising” for the umpteenth time, I was forced to posthumously contact the great man. How could I work in the best ad agency in Dubai and not have met “the father”.
I wanted answers.
I needed instruction.
I had to have his genius bestowed upon me.
22 unsolicited and un-replied emails and 16 handwritten letters in red ink later, I was finally granted permission to meet “The father of advertising”. In the end, I slipped in the door via a critique of one of his ads. I had insulted the father and it was him, who now wanted answers. His ego, like a peach, was juicy and easily bruised. I could apologise later, no sweat.
The catch: he would only do the interview in person at Touffou, his castle in France.
And yes I had to Google the place and how to say hello in French.
“Bonjour, bonjour, bonjour” It had to be perfect.
I jumped on the next plane to France and 7 hours and two minutes later, I found myself being welcomed by 10,000 or so screaming Parisians.
Ok, not really. The only seat left was in first class and I got a little silly on the gratuities. Upon attempting to get a taxi, I realized that outside of “Bonjour”, my French game was far from on point. I showed the taxi man a map, he went white, and with an underwhelming look of grief, silently gasped “Ogilvy”.
What had I gotten myself into? The trip, I had found was close to four hours and 300 Euros long. But finally, I was standing in front of the pearly gates of Chateau de Touffou, the father’s castle.
In complete trepidation I buzzed and was let in.
I was immediately taken to a sitting room and offered a whiskey and a cigar. Finally I thought, I am living in a mad-man world.
We exchanged pleasantries and I apologised for attacking his ad and then explained why. He understood my trickery and explained he would have done the same. David said he could only answer ten questions, “you better make them count” he teased.
And here they are:
AM: David you were quite the copywriter but always referred to yourself as lousy. What was your secret?
DO: Do not address your readers as though they were gathered together in a stadium. When people read your copy, they are alone. Pretend you are writing to each of them a letter on behalf of your client.
AM: Where did you learn to write?
DO: I don’t know the rules of grammar. If you’re trying to persuade people to do something, or buy something, it seems to me you should use their language, the language they use every day, the language in which they think. We try to write in the vernacular.
AM: So you speak to the consumer one-to-one in their own language, do you ever embellish or use overly persuasive language?
DO: Never write an advertisement which you wouldn’t want your family to read. You wouldn’t tell lies to your own wife. Don’t tell them to mine.
AM: I wouldn’t dare, but there is a fine line between persuasion and lying. Have you found benefit in native advertising?
DO: It has been found that the less an advertisement looks like an advertisement and the more it looks like an editorial, the more readers stop, look, and read.
AM: Do you find that the customer is easy to trick?
DO: The consumer isn’t a moron; she is your wife. You insult her intelligence if you assume that a mere slogan and a few vapid adjectives will persuade her to buy anything. She wants all the information you can give her.
AM: So we live in a digital world with an abundance of information, what would be your advice in the advertising environment today?
DO: Never stop testing, and your advertising will never stop improving.
AM: This happens to be a lot easier now with all the advancements in digital advertising. But there is so much data available – will the show just go on?
DO: Advertising people who ignore research are as dangerous as generals who ignore decodes of enemy signals.
AM: You basically started from nothing, what would you tell your younger self when you were setting your agency up?
DO: Hire people who are better than you are, then leave them to get on with it. Look for people who will aim for the remarkable, who will not settle for the routine.
AM: Is there a risk to hiring people who are better than you?
DO: If you always hire people who are smaller than you are, we shall become a company of dwarfs. If, on the other hand, you always hire people who are bigger than you are, we shall become a company of giants.
AM: David I think I have learnt more about advertising in 15 minutes with you than I have in my whole career, do me a favour and send me off with another gem.
DO: Don’t bunt. Aim out of the ball park. Aim for the company of immortals.
And poof he was gone…
He was blunt, and straight to the point. Everything he said sounded like a quote.