David Ogilvy Never Made a Client Cry


I wonder what the man who wrote the book on advertising would put out next. 

For anyone born after, oh, 1990, David Ogilvy was the iconic ad guy who came before Don Draper. Way, way before AMC even, back when TV had only 3 channels to choose from. Photos and TV were getting color for the first time. It was some pretty rad times.  

Advertising was still limited to its 3 main channels, too: print, TV and radio. But Ogilvy and contemporaries like George Lois and Mary Wells Lawrence were changing it. The work wasn’t laughable even by today’s standards. Pages and airtime went from crass announcements and proclamations to spaces with personality, charm, and character. It wasn’t just the product that was being talked about; the ad, the message were, too. “Brand” was born. Advertising began to have real craft to it.  

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 Ogilvy was a writer. So too Bill Bernbach, Tom McElligott, Hal Riney, Lee Clow, and a lot of my earliest ad heroes. They, along with the creative teams they inspired and work they created, made advertising absolutely the only career path I would ever consider. And while the work was changing/changed forever, I wonder if their clients felt the change they, in giving them some credit, were signing off on?  

Before the world sees any work, you have to move the client. Help them feel where the work—which will come later—is going to go. You’re typically pivoting out of strategy phase, asking a client to let go of the strong, stable, rational handrails we’ve just walked them through. You’re about to move into the un-rational (purposefully so) world of expression. And there’s no handbook for that, not even from David Ogilvy. 

Before any advertising, digital or otherwise, is developed, we typically create that brand’s anthem; its manifesto. Its purpose in the world, its WHY. This is a shift from marketing into heart. We write it, design it, maybe lay it out or turn it into a video. There is voice in it, personality, and always thought, consideration, inspiration. Often when we present an anthem to a client for the first time, and  it connects, it can (and maybe should) move them to tears. Or at least, a tear ;-)  Because done right, it can be the first time they see this brand they know actually feel like so much more. Might sound crazy, but this “making a client cry” is actually a go-for here at our agency. 

At the core, we’re just capturing truth. It’s not about “getting creative”; how we bring truth to life is, yes, but at its core it’s just being honest. I believe the best advertising of any era captures that honesty; that’s where the real creative work is. Luke Sullivan just put up a mind blowingly great post about it here, “Something More Powerful Than Creativity.” A little taste: “It isn’t just that our bullshit detectors are set on high; it’s our truth detectors; those we turned off a long time ago. There isn’t any.” Read that and see if you don’t approach work differently tomorrow. 

Check out more by Abbie Walker in AdWeek a couple weeks ago, “The Era of Kinship.” And still another great read by Mark Taylor in the recent Communication Arts, “Walking the Talk. 

All this is to say, let’s be careful about being creative. Maybe we can be even better. 


Post Date
April 2, 2014
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