• Zachary Petit

Legends in Advertising: Mad Man David Ogilvy

Perhaps one of the best parts of Mad Men is the surplus of hat tips and Easter Eggs it throws to its real-life industry source material. Sometimes it’s as big as this season’s Milton Glaser promos, and other times it’s as subtle as last week’s mention that the the Draper-meltdown-inducing Hershey account went to Ogilvy—which, in real life, it did. As the Gothamist detailed, Phil Dougherty wrote about the famous account in his New York Times column on Valentine’s Day, 1969 (the day the episode takes place).

David Ogilvy and other ad greats (such as Bill Bernbach) are constantly referenced in Mad Men. As the latest in Print’s Legends in Advertising series: Who was Ogilvy?

To start, as Ogilvy & Mather documents, he once sent the following memo to a partner:

Will Any Agency Hire This Man?

He is 38, and unemployed. He dropped out of college. He has been a cook, a salesman, a diplomatist and a farmer. He knows nothing about marketing and had never written any copy. He professes to be interested in advertising as a career (at the age of 38!) and is ready to go to work for $5,000 a year. I doubt if any American agency will hire him. 

However, a London agency did hire him. Three years later he became the most famous copywriter in the world, and in due course built the tenth biggest agency in the world. 

The moral: it sometimes pays an agency to be imaginative and unorthodox in hiring.

(Notice any more Draper parallels?)

Ogilvy (1911-1999) is often best summed up, simply, as “the father of advertising”—a title bestowed on more than a few, but more accurate in some cases than others. As Ogilvy & Mather’s bio recaps, he came to the US via his European roots in 1938 and worked for Gallup’s Audience Research Institute, which shaped his research-focused strategic thinking. A decade later, though he hadn’t yet penned an ad, he opened Ogilvy, Benson & Mather.

Ogilvy went on to produce an astounding array of work for some of the biggest clients around—Lever, Shell, Sears, Rolls-Royce, American Express—and shaped the agency into one of the world’s most prominent. For his efforts, he was inducted into the US Advertising Hall of Fame in 1977.

Like all ad greats, though, the work best tells the story.

Here’s a selection of Ogilvy’s ads (click for larger images), sprinkled with some of his quips throughout.

O&M  Hathaway 60's 2

All images © Ogilvy & Mather, www.ogilvy.com

“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.”

O&M  Dove_Ad

“The creative process requires more than reason. Most original thinking isn’t even verbal. It requires ‘a groping experimentation with ideas, governed by intuitive hunches and inspired by the unconscious.’ The majority of businessmen are incapable of original thinking because they are unable to escape from the tyranny of reason. Their imaginations are blocked.”


“Where people aren’t having any fun, they seldom produce good work.”

O&M  Guinness Cheese

“Much of the messy advertising you see on television today is the product of committees. Committees can criticize advertisements, but they should never be allowed to create them.”


“Develop your eccentricities while you are young. That way, when you get old, people won’t think you’re going gaga.”

O&M  Hathaway_Dacron

“I do not regard advertising as entertainment or an art form, but as a medium of information. When I write an advertisement, I don’t want you to tell me that you find it ‘creative.’ I want you to find it so interesting that you buy the product.”


“The most important word in the vocabulary of advertising is TEST.”

O&M  Rolls Royce vert

“On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.”


“Unless your campaign has a big idea, it will pass like a ship in the night.”

O&M  Schweppes

“When someone is made the head of an office in the Ogilvy & Mather chain, I send him a Matrioshka doll from Gorky. If he has the curiosity to open it, and keep opening it until he comes to the inside of the smallest doll, he finds this message: If each of us hires people who are smaller than we are, we shall become a company of dwarfs. But if each of us hires people who are bigger than we are, we shall become a company of giants.”


“When you have nothing to say, sing it.”

O&M  Sears_Fur_vert

“Don’t bunt. Aim out of the ballpark. Aim for the company of immortals.”

#DavidOgilvy #legendsinadvertising #MadMen