Ogilvy On Social Media: “Totally Baffled” Says Biographer

by Jason Falls |
Jason Falls
Jason Falls

Legendary ad man David Ogilvy, “would be totally baffled by social media, despite its being transparent,” Kenneth Roman says. Roman, the former Chairman and CEO of Ogilvy & Mather and author of the new David Ogilvy biography, “The King of Madison Avenue,” answered a few questions from me last week about his new book, which is a very interesting read.

Roman admits Ogilvy wasn’t much on emerging media. Sometimes noted as the father of American advertising, Ogilvy was a print man whose creative work sparked a paradigm shift in the advertising world with ads like, “The Man in the Hathaway Shirt,” and the famous Rolls-Royce ad that included the headline, “At 60 Miles an Hour the Loudest Noise in This New Rolls-Royce Comes from the Electric Clock.”

“Ogivly refused to talk about, ‘new media,” Roman said. “He simply didn’t understand technology in any form. But he did understand basic principles of how to communicate clearly, the importance of having the right message, and measuring the result with research.”

I’m sure Katie Paine’s heart just went aflutter.

In reading, “The King of Madison Avenue,” I was taken by some repetition in one of Ogilvy’s core philosophies:

“The consumer is not a moron, she is your wife. Never write an advertisement you would not want your own family to read. You would not tell lies to your wife. Don’t tell them to mine.”

The King of Madison Avenue by Kenneth RomanThe hypothesis of why social media exists is because consumers grew tired of advertising messages and turned to word-of-mouth recommendations – honest, friend-to-friend discussions – for product information. That coupled with the burgeoning technology available to connect like-minded consumer online led to social networks, Amazon, eBay and the like. It’s as if advertising stopped paying attention to Ogilvy’s rules (not that they were bound to them) and abused the notion the consumer isn’t a moron and doesn’t want to be lied to.

Is it because we stopped trusting advertising? Did they do something to lose that trust?

“I’m not sure that advertising is any less trusted, but it may be less effective for a litany of reasons,” Roman told me. “The principal reason the industry has strayed from Ogilvy’s ‘instructions’ is the pervasive influence of awards and popularity contests — such as those surrounding the Super Bowl ads. Some of the most effective advertising running today (from P&G, for example) never gets mentioned in these contexts.”

Another of Ogilvy’s tenants was that for an advertisement to be successful, it has to sell first. I can recall a handful of SuperBowl commercials I thought were cute, but none of them would lead me to buy the product they were advertising. So Roman has a point.

But at the core of social media lies this very ironic fabric of advertising. Social media marketing starts with listening which automatically puts a great sense of power and standing in the court of the consumer. The consumer is not a moron. Companies must be honest and transparent and respectful of the consumer to behave well in the social media space.

Maybe David Ogilvy had social media pegged all along.

Roman says todays advertising is closer to that Ogilvy ideal. My assumption is that might be partially as a result of the advent of social media. He said, “I am confident virtually all advertising today, in whatever media, is truthful and responsible. Whether it shows respect for the consumer does, of course, vary from advertiser to advertiser.”

As far as the future of advertising, Roman isn’t worried but knows social media is a big part of it.

“Advertising has always changed, and will continue to do so,” he said. “That is, the techniques have changed — not necessarily the fundamentals. Social marketing is a wonderful new medium that is effective in reaching a changing audience.”

“The King of Madison Avenue,” is a fantastic story of the storied advertising legend. It’s told by a man who knew and worked with him and is done so honestly, but respectfully. My great judge of a biographical work is two-fold. Was it easy to read and did Iearn something. Yes on both counts for this one.

The book is published by Palgrave Macmillan and will run you about $30. For an inside look into the history and life of David Ogilvy, I doubt you’ll find a better buy.

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About the Author

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).