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What Made David Ogilvy The Father of Advertising : His Complete Journey (1911-1999)

Read Time: 6 min

Today I am going to narrate a story but before that, I want to put a situation in front of you.

Let’s suppose you are an employer of an ad agency and you got a profile for a person whose attributes are as follows?

After reading the whole attributes, you will have to decide

Will you Hire This Man?

So, the attributes are as follows:

  1. He is in his late 30s, and unemployed.
  2. He is a college dropout.
  3. He has been a cook, a salesman, a diplomatist and a farmer.
  4. He knows nothing about marketing and had never written any copy.
  5. He has decided to start his career in advertising in his late 30s.

Now make your decision.

Are you in a dilemma?

Ahh… Don’t worry. I know it’s quite obvious for us.

Ok then let me make it a bit easy for you by telling the name of the person.

 His name is David Mackenzie Ogilvy.

 Yes…Yes, you read it right. He is none other than David Ogilvy- The Father of Advertising.

Now I will tell you about David Ogilvy’s initial life, the different path he had taken before landing into advertising, his major works and his principles and theories which made him The Father of Advertising.

Why David Ogilvy is known as the Father of Advertising?


Let us start with the very initial life of David Ogilvy.


David Ogilvy’s Early life (1911-1929)

He was born on June 23, 1911, in an English city Surrey, England. He was the youngest child of John and Dorothy Ogilvy. His father was a stockbroker and suffering from a financial crisis when David was very young. In such circumstances, it was a tough task for David Ogilvy’s parents to afford the cost of his primary education.

Ogilvy attended an Edinburgh public school, Fettes, on a scholarship. In 1929, He also won a scholarship to study modern history at Christ Church College, Oxford but he left after just two years as he was unable to pass exams there.

 Along the way to start his career in advertising, he took a series of side roads, from a salesman to Pennsylvania farmer to diplomat and also an apprentice chef.

Initial Journey of David Ogilvy (1931- 1948)

After dropping out of college, In 1931 he decided to travel to Paris in order to apprentice as a chef at the Hotel Majestic. About this period of his life, David Ogilvy had also shared a story

“The kitchen was run by a quick-tempered Monsieur Pitard, who one day dismissed a junior chef whose bread had not risen properly. Mr. Ogilvy would later note that the chef’s hard treatment of the subordinate lifted the morale of the other junior chefs, making them feel that they were working in the best kitchen in the world.”

He credits his time here as an experience that taught him discipline and management skills, as well as when to move on.

And then he returned to Scotland, where he began selling cooking stoves door-to-door. He immediately showed a natural skill for being able to sell the product to anyone and everyone, and this was something that captured the attention of his employer, who assigned him a task to produce an instruction manual for his peers.

The Theory and Practice of Selling the AGA Cooker this was the first time when he had written something similar to a copy for a product. And, three decades later, Fortune Magazine would call it the finest sales instruction manual ever written.

This sales instruction manual paved his way to the world of advertising. After seeing the manual, Ogilvy’s older brother Francis Ogilvy showed the manual to management at the London advertising agency Mather & Crowther where he was working. They were so impressed with David Ogilvy’s work that they offered the younger Ogilvy a position as an account executive.

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In 1938, he convinced the agency to send him to the United States for a year; at the year’s end, he resigned and joined George Gallup’s National Research Institute, New Jersey which he later called ”the luckiest break of my life” because he said, he learned a great deal about the United States, its people and its preferences, and because he also learned how to do research, on which he placed great reliance in advertising.

During World War II, Mr. Ogilvy served in British intelligence in the United States from 1942 to 1944; in 1944 he became the second secretary at the British Embassy. There he analyzed and made recommendations on matters of diplomacy and security.

Ogilvy married Sophie Louise Blew Jones.

After this phase of life, David Ogilvy bought a farm in Pennsylvania and started doing farming for several years, but eventually, he admitted his limitations as a farmer and moved to Manhattan.

So, in 1948, he set up his advertising agency OBM (Ogilvy Benson Mather) with no credentials, no clients and only $6000. The company was backed up by Mather and Crowther, the London agency being run by his elder brother, Francis.

Over the next two decades, David Ogilvy fixed his position amongst the big players of the industry by doing several major campaigns from General Foods, American Express, Shell, and Rolls-Royce, along with others.

“Ogilvy prided himself on perfecting the information-laden but painless print advertisements, he was perhaps even more famous for finding the character or symbol that turned a product into a brand, and a brand into a byword.”

David Ogilvy’s Major Ad Campaigns  

He created successful campaigns for Shell Oil, Sunoco, Dove soap and Sears, Roebuck as well as for the Puerto Rico Tourist Board and Merrill Lynch.

  • The Hathaway man’s eyepatch


It was 1951, and Ogilvy’s client was CF Hathaway, a small shirt-maker from Maine. The company had never done any paid advertising before and was planning to spend just $30,000 to compete with much better-known brands.

Though Ogilvy knew that he would never get rich handling this account but even he decided to do something orthodox. And He discovered an idea using an eye patch as part of the campaign.

Without the eye patch, the Hathaway campaign would have been a simple example of shirt advertising with a well-dressed man shot against an opulent background.

The ad’s impact was so huge that within a week, every Hathaway shirt in the city was sold. Its first insertion in The New Yorker cost was just $3,176. The Hathaway Man increased sales by 160% for Hathaway Shirts, a not so popular company with a history spanning over a century.


  • Peurto Rico- An Island sold as a tropical paradise


In 1953 For Puerto Rican tourism, his approach was to change the image of the island, selling it as a tropical paradise.



It was 961 words long copy written by David Ogilvy. About this campaign he proudly said

“The greatest professional satisfaction I have yet had is to see the prosperity in Puerto Rican communities which had lived on the edge of starvation for four hundred years before I wrote my advertisement.”

  • Dove “Darling”

One of his greatest successes was “Only Dove is one-quarter moisturizing cream”. This campaign helped Dove become the top-selling soap in the U.S.

“Dove is one-quarter cleansing cream —It creams your skin while you wash.”

See the full Ad here

  • Rolls Royce- Ad with a great headline

In 1959, his agency won the Rolls-Royce account, for which it produced Mr. Ogilvy’s favorite campaign. The headline of the print ads read:

At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock. 


David Ogilvy describes the above ad as possessing “the best headline I ever wrote.”

See the full Ad here

In a career that spanned five decades, Mr. Ogilvy created one of the biggest ad agencies in the world and helped alter the landscape of American advertising.

 Mr. Ogilvy had never a tendency to underestimate himself, wrote of these early successes,

”I doubt whether any copywriter has ever produced so many winners in such a short period.”

If you wish to see his marvelous pieces of work, Click here

David Ogilvy’s Major Achievements

  • In 1966, the rebranded Ogilvy & Mather International became the first ad agency to go public on both the New York and London Stock Exchanges. The company had 30 offices in 14 countries.
  • Ogilvy was made a Commander of the Order of British Empire (CBE) in 1967.
  • He was appointed Chairman of the United Negro College Fund in 1968, and trustee on the Executive Council of the World Wildlife Fund in 1975.
  • He was elected to the U.S. Advertising Hall of Fame in 1977 and to France’s Order of Arts and Letters in 1990.
  • Mr. Ogilvy was inducted into the Junior Achievement U.S. Business Hall of Fame in 1979.
  • David Ogilvy chaired the Public Participation Committee for Lincoln Center in Manhattan and served as a member of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 100th Anniversary Committee.


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David Ogilvy’s Personal Insights

  • He was an early advocate of so-called long copy advertising, meaning advertising that used many words rather than few, and of what he called factual and informative advertising.
  • ”When you advertise in local newspapers,” he wrote in ”Ogilvy on Advertising,” you get better results if you include the name of each city in your headline. People are mostly interested in what is happening where they live.”
  • In his chapter on making good TV commercials, he wrote: ”Start selling in your first frame and never stop selling until the last.” And: ”The purpose of a commercial is not to entertain the viewer, but to sell him.”
  • He also wrote in ”Confessions” about his relationship with his clients: ”I buy shares in their company so that I can think like a member of their family.”
  • He said: ”I always use my clients’ products. This is not toadyism but elementary good manners. I also resign accounts when I lose confidence in the product.”


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David Ogilvy’s Four Principles

  • Creative brilliance: had a strong emphasis on the “BIG IDEA”.
  • Research: coming, as he did, from a background in research, he never underestimated its importance in advertising. In fact, in 1952, when he opened his own agency, he billed himself as a research director.
  • Actual results for clients:In the modern world of business, it is useless to be a creative, original thinker unless you can also sell what you create.”
  • Professional discipline:I prefer the discipline of knowledge to the anarchy of ignorance.” He codified knowledge into slide and film presentations he called Magic Lanterns. He also instituted several training programs for young advertising professionals.

David Ogilvy’s Ten Commandments

  1. Read the Roman-Raphaelson book on writing. Read it three times.
  2. Write the way you talk. Naturally.
  3. Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs.
  4. Never use jargon words
  5. Never write more than two pages on any subject.
  6. Check your quotations.
  7. Never send a letter or a memo on the day you write it. Read it aloud the next morning — and then edit it.
  8. If it is something important, get a colleague to improve it.
  9. Before you send your letter or your memo, make sure it is crystal clear what you want the recipient to do.
  10. If you want ACTION, don’t write. Go and tell the guy what you want.

David Ogilvy’s Published Books

  • Confession of an advertising man – 1963
  • Blood, Brains and Beer – 1978
  • The Unpublished David Ogilvy – 1986
  • Confession of an advertising man Second edition- 1988
  • An Autobiography – 1997

David Ogilvy’s Famous Quotes

Regardless of whether or not you are from the advertising industry, David Ogilvy’s quotes would definitely give you a different perspective to see the things around you. Though the Internet is flooded with his quotes. But here I am sharing favorite pick of Mr. Ogilvy’s quotes.

“I do not regard advertising as entertainment or an art form, but as a medium of information.”

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

“I do not regard advertising as entertainment or an art form, but as a medium of information.”

“Advertising people who ignore research are as dangerous as generals who ignore decodes of enemy signals.”

“What really decides consumers to buy or not to buy is the content of your advertising, not its form.”

“The consumer isn’t a moron; she is your wife.”

“The best ideas come as jokes. Make your thinking as funny as possible.”

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

“The pursuit of excellence is less profitable than the pursuit of bigness, but it can be more satisfying.”

“Said Winston Churchill, ‘PERFECTIONISM is spelled PARALYSIS”

David Ogilvy died on 21 July 1999 at his home, the Château de Touffou, in Bonnes, France. Ogilvy remains one of the most famous names in advertising and is considered one of its dominant thinkers.

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Hope I have answered your question that what made David Ogilvy the Father of Advertising. If you are still wondering or want to know more about him.

Just Go and Read his book “Ogilvy on Advertising

I believe you will enjoy watching this movie narrated by David Ogilvy himself.

Do comment below if you want me to write about anyone inspiring figure whom you admire a lot. And if you liked this article please subscribe to our newsletter to get event industry updates. You can also follow us on TwitterFacebook and Instagram.



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