Ogilvy on Advertising in the Digital Age

Sequels are a fool’s errand.

But you can understand the allure. To the maker, they promise a repeat of the accolades and praise that the first effort elicited. To the public, they offer an experience at once novel and familiar, and all the while wholly satisfying.

And one can understand the appeal of a sequel to David Ogilvy’s monumental 1985 work Ogilvy on Advertising. Which was itself, a sort of sequel to Confessions of an Advertising Man. Because what indeed would the original Hathaway man have made of the digital age we live in? He who learned about research at the knee of George Gallup, about selling in the kitchens of ten thousand housewives, and about advertising at the elbow of his brother and then his brother-in-law. What would he who so loved direct mail have made of the pinpoint accuracy (well, sorta) of social media, of programmatic advertising, of mobile? Why, just taking three famous Ogilvy-isms at random fairly begs one to theorize about how he’d have considered them in the context of the internet onslaught that we endure daily:

The customer isn’t a moron. She is your wife.

If it doesn’t sell, it isn’t creative.

People don’t think what they feel, don’t say what they think and don’t do what they say.

Except this book is not that book.

Which is not to say it is not a very good book. Because it is, it’s a very dense, very insightful, very valuable book about advertising and marketing in the decades that have elapsed since Mr. Ogilvy wrote his book.

But it is not an updated version of that book from forty years ago. Ogilvy’s book – like Confessions… before it – was an expression of his personal ethos, his vision – his brand. Indeed both books were as much about promoting the myth and magic of David Ogilvy as they were about promoting the agency or advertising as a whole. Which is, we assume, exactly how the old man wanted it. And Miles Young is smarter than that.

For Mr. Young’s vision is fundamentally different from Mr. Ogilvy’s in two important ways. First, it is clearly more collaborative. Now, this is not to say that Ogilvy was a megalomaniac who could not see the value of anything he did not create. Far be it. But Young clearly goes out of his way in …Digital Age to single out great advertising thinkers and work admires that is beyond the Ogilvy network. From profiles of R/GA’s Bob Greenburg and Dentsu’s Akira Kagami to case studies of Wieden’s work for Old Spice to Fallon’s work for BMW – Young’s approach is inclusive and collaborative among contemporaries in a way that is refreshing and appealing and seeks not to so much use the book to promote his own reputation, but rather to inform, enlighten and advance. Like here:

It was something that Wendy Clark of Coca-Cola brilliantly encouraged; a 70%: 20% 10% division of media investment. Seventy percent is ‘low risk, bread and butter’: 20 per cent is ‘innovative’; but 10 percent is spent on ‘high-risk new ideas’.

And the second difference is that Mr. Young’s book is more international than its namesake. A curious comparison to make about a book written by a man who was born in Scotland, worked as a sous-chef in Paris, built a legendary advertising agency in New York City, and then expanded that agency into a global empire in the final years of his life, to be sure. And even more curious when one considers the pride that Ogilvy on Advertising takes in celebrating the agency’s own work for Puerto Rico and featuring advertising approaches from around the world.

But …Digital Age is more granularly international than Mr. Ogilvy’s book. Young, who was Chairman of Asia Pacific at Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide for 13 years before becoming worldwide Chairman, is armed with working insights about how the world is that would have fascinated his boss but been beyond his ken. Insights like:

What will this new world feel like? Well, very different to the world the West thinks of now. It will be female, Muslim and urban.

Or this about millennials (which when you consider the impact they are having and have had on American culture, should give you pause):

We are, after all, talking about 38.1 percent of the world’s population – there’s little in common between Pakistan’s 99 million Millennials and the US’s 91 million.

Or most remarkably this which accompanies a chart indicating that in the year 2000, China had 30 million “netizens”:

It was the time when the number of internet users in China surpassed for the first time the number of troglodytes, or cave dwellers.

(Yes, you read that correctly. In 2000, China had 30 million people who were still living in caves. Or said another way, more people living in caves than live today in Arkansas, Mississippi, Kansas, New Mexico, Nebraska, West Virginia, Idaho, Hawaii, New Hampshire, Maine, Montana, Rhode Island, Delaware, South Dakota, North Dakota, Alaska, Vermont, Wyoming, Guam, the US Virgin Islands, American Samoa and the District of Columbia combined. Think about that for a second.)

But the reasons for these two differences have as much to do with this new digital age in which we live as they do with the fact that Mr. Young is not Mr. Ogilvy. We live in an infinitely more connected world than Mr. Ogilvy did, making collaboration and the exchange of ideas more possible than ever before. Ideas that can originate in any corner of the globe and travel across it with lightening quickness, illuminating – or infecting – consumers and other humans in ways that would have been unimaginable even as recently as 1985, when Mr. Ogilvy wrote his book. Making collaboration, and international collaboration at that, as ubiquitous as the internet itself.

And making …Digital Age, as much a product of its time as its namesake was of its.

So maybe they’re not so different after all.


Ogilvy on Advertising in the Digital Age by Miles Young was published by Bloomsbury US on 01/09/2018 – order it from Amazon here, or from Barnes & Noble here, or pick it up at your local bookseller (find one here).

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