Five reasons David Ogilvy would like – and approve of – social media

I’m a big fan of David Ogilvy. The principles he laid down in his books and in his work are still being expressed to great effect – decades later and in more languages he might have ever imagined – by the Ogilvy network worldwide.  When Ogilvy passed away just after his 88th birthday in 1999, he would have had no idea (as the rest of us didn’t) what incredible changes were about to re-shape the marketing and advertising landscape.   Changes like website functionality and enhancements to HTML and search and later paid search and mobile.

But David was all about was the BIG IDEA.  And while all those channels would have made sense in an expanding media world, and maybe would have made great strides under his stewardship, none would likely have tickled him or inspired him more than the proliferation of social media.  Based on some of the more important principles he articulated in “Ogilvy on Advertising,” his veritable how-to for all marketing practitioners, here are five key reasons “Uncle Dave” would have been agog over social media.

  1. The ability to articulate a unified brand image: Ogilvy wrote “products, like people, have personalities…an amalgam of many things – its name, its packaging, its price, the style of its advertising, and above all, the nature of the product itself.”  The many forms of social media allow a brand to articulate that personality across the vast expanses of the online landscape, and give its stewards (brand managers, CMOs and agency contacts) the opportunity to capitalize on that privilege or to puke it away.  As Ogilvy said, “it isn’t the {product} they choose, it’s the image.”
  2. Word of mouth: David was talking about this in the early 1980’s, while the rest of the industry came around about 20 years later.  Ogilvy was fascinated by this aspect of the business and even commented on how elements of advertising, like jingles and fashion styles, were crossing over into mainstream consumption.Of course, the bedrock of social media is word of mouth.  It starts with influencing and even starting conversations about your company or your brand, and then monitoring them.  Today’s social media tools and third-party-developed platforms allow you to develop, manage and monitor your social “voice” with increasing levels of accuracy.
  3. How to become a good copywriter: In the memorial full page ad in Adweek in August 1999, a picture of David Ogilvy was accompanied with his quote:  “I’d like to be remembered as a copywriter who had some big ideas.”  He knew the business was perched on good ideas, articulated well in copy.And what is social media but a bunch of copy?  Web copy, blog posts, comments, LinkedIn profiles, FB posts and statuses…all copy.  And the mothership of copywriting?  Twitter:  just 140 characters to say it right.  Although Uncle Dave was a fan of the long-form ad, he may have enjoyed this simple but effective restriction.  My guess is he would have summed it up thus: “It’s brilliant.  It keeps the rubbish to a minimum, and makes everyone else create new destinations from the same footpath.”
  4. Analysis, especially by medium: One important aspect of the business that intrigued Ogilvy was direct response.  He called it his “first love and secret weapon.”  He loved the  connection to visible, measurable sales.  He hailed the headline as the most important element in communicating benefits.  And he wrote that relating inquiries to the medium that produced them can help you fine tune your media selection.Ogilvy, a huge fan of direct marketing metrics and a fierce proponent of research, would have been tickled silly with modern tools like Google Analytics, or BackType (an engine that allows you to search conversation topics on blogs, mashups and other social networks.) He also would have been a master of leveraging combinations – a Twitter feed on his blog; latest posts on his Facebook fan page (jeez, how many fans would he have had?) and a LinkedIn profile that pointed to his video content on YouTube and Vimeo.  All of this of course, streamed to his fans and friends via RSS and managed simply via his dashboard.
  5. The #1 Miracle of Research: Ogilvy was a staunch supporter of research, writing “advertising people who ignore research are as dangerous as generals who ignore decodes of enemy signals.”  In the book, he outlines 18 miracles of research.  This is #1:  “It can measure the reputation of your company among consumers…”How convenient that social media would allow Mr. Ogilvy to do virtually the same thing, in real time!  By monitoring conversations about the brands his agency advertises, or reading through recent entries of a help forum for a product his agency markets, or by measuring daily analytics on a website his agency built, David the Great would have had a moment-to-moment readout on how his brands were doing.  Probably while sipping a perfect gin on the veranda overlooking the garden at Touffou.Cheers, David.  How we miss you so.

Article also published by Nader Ashway as Five Reasons David Ogilvy Would Like – and Aprove of  – Social Media on Technorati.

5 thoughts on “Five reasons David Ogilvy would like – and approve of – social media

  1. Ross Simmonds April 1, 2010 / 7:36 pm

    While I agree Mr.Ogilvy would approve of social media; I highly doubt he’d be working in it. The entire premise of social media is engagement and creating relationships. Mr.Ogilvy was about one thing – Selling. If he wasn’t selling something he wasn’t being creative and in his own words he didn’t write a single piece of copy that didn’t sell. There are people who use social media to sell-sell-sell but they’ve all failed drastically. I think one point you touched on would be extremely important to Mr.Ogilvy and that’s research. He believed in research and he would without question see the opportunities that exist because of social media for researching consumer trends. Ultimately, solid post and I look forward to reading more of your work.


    • Nader Ashway April 1, 2010 / 8:29 pm

      Good insights, Ross. And you’re spot-on about Dave. He’d try to sell his drowning grandmammy a fifth of sparkling water. I also heartily agree about the failures of those who try to “sell” using social. “Engagement and creating relationships.” True that. Just started following you on Twitter and checked out your blog. Look forward to more dialogue.


  2. Christopher May 10, 2010 / 5:13 pm

    This is the perennial problem with social media. Practioners insist upon perpetuating the lie that they are not “selling,” but “communicating.” It’s an insult to any thinking person’s intelligence. Those in the promotional media business are always selling. The only difference is which media they use and how honest they are about using it. A Facebook invitation to a musical performance is still a sales outreach, regardless of how warm and fuzzy the delivery vehicle. A tweet recommending a restaurant from the culinary savant paid by the restaurant is a promotion. No one who isn’t either hopelessly naive or frighteningly incompetent spends money to “create relationships,” if he or she is not going to make money in the process. You talk about “selling Grandmammy a fifth of sparkling water,” as if that were a bad thing. Well, according to Ogilvy, “the customer is not a moron. She is your wife.” Ironically enough, it is the purveyors of social media operating under the ridiculous facade of not “selling” anything that most obviously abrogate that fact.


  3. Kohlben June 4, 2011 / 6:52 am

    Hi Nader, Great post. It’s difficult to say if David would have been a fan of social media. Like some of the other readers have rightfully pointed out he was very much focused on selling which doesn’t go down well in social media. However, his passion for the power of research in advertising would have fuelled an interest in social media insights. I recently posted a book review about Ogivly on Advertising” and found there were many social media lessons that can be still applied today.


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