by David Tandet

In 2004, Adweek asked professionals “Which individuals — alive or dead — made you consider pursuing a career in advertising?”

Could there be any doubt the number one response would be David Ogilvy?

Ogilvy’s name also came back first when students were asked a similar question.

Not bad for a guy who was born in 1911 and started his ad agency (still going strong as a subsidiary of WPP Group) in 1949.

Ogilvy wrote “Confessions of an Advertising Man” in 1963 and it remains a bestseller. In “Confessions” he says he doesn’t know enough about TV to comment on that new stuff.

“Ogilvy On Advertising” came out in 1983. Do your own informal survey of communications professionals’ homes. I’m guessing “On Advertising” is in over half the ones you visit. In that book he still says, “My experience in television has been more limited.”

So what makes Ogilvy a genius?

After all, he wasn’t the only guy going to work during Madison Avenue’s golden age.

Well for one thing, there weren’t a heck of a lot of people writing about advertising when he first wrote about it.

For another, this was the head of a major agency giving specifics on inside stuff. That includes how to write an ad. How could you not be fascinated by what he was saying? Then there’s that small matter of Ogilvy being responsible for some of the most famous campaigns of all time. Dove still promises not to dry your skin the way soap can.

Of course, not even Ogilvy claimed to get it right 100% of the time. He kind of relished reviewing mistakes he made along the way, in fact. And he could well afford to.

But if there’s one true lesson David Ogilvy teaches it’s this: the bottom line is how well the writing and design serves a client’s needs. In advertising that’s usually sales. Ogilvy didn’t thumb his nose at the awards his copywriters won. He just didn’t think they were necessarily relevant. If the writing and design helped his client’s sales, he was for it. If the writing and design did not help his client’s sales, he was against it.

What a simple idea. What a great way to approach work.

Post filed under Advertising Hall of Fame, Foundations of Marketing, Sales Gold.