A College Dropout Schools Us on Success - by John Forde

    • 1490 posts
    June 6, 2019 10:35 PM PDT


    June 4, 2019

    What a College Dropout Can 
    Teach You About Success


    "Few great men could
    get past Personnel."
    - Paul Goodman

    A few weeks back, I stitched together a presentation about the power of "Big Ideas." 

    And I opened, natch, with a very famous quote from the legendary David Ogilvy. Then another. And another. 

    I admit they're like peanuts. Or Pringles. Or Birthdays. All the above are best enjoyed in bulk.

    With that in mind, how about we run through a little more wisdom from this immortal adman?

    I first shared some of these, by the way, back in 2007. So you longtime readers might get a sense of déjà vu. 

    But that's okay. 

    Wisdom like this is also like fine wine. Meaning, it still gets you drunk with ideas. 

    To start, though, let's talk a little more about the man himself and how he came to be so wise...

    So, who was David Ogilvy?

    As I said in the headline, he was indeed a college dropout (from Oxford, of course, but still).

    He was also the chef in a Paris hotel. And he was, perhaps most famously -- other than his final job as head of Ogilvy & Mather -- a door-to-door stove salesman in Scotland.

    It was this last gig that would launch him down the path to fame and fortune. And ultimately, into the pages of the CR, where you've heard him mentioned often.

    See, Ogilvy was so good at selling the Aga cooking stoves, his boss asked him to write an instruction manual for other stove salesmen.

    His brother Francis, who worked at the Mather & Crowther ad agency in London, brought David's manual in to show around. 

    The top brass were so impressed, they offered young David a job as an account executive.

    A few months later, a man walked into the agency looking to buy some advertising help for the opening of a new hotel.

    The man had just $500 to spend on the campaign, so they directed his meager account to the newbie -- David Ogilvy. 

    Ogilvy took the $500 and bought enough postcards to invite everybody in the local phone directory to come to the opening. 

    On the day the hotel's doors opened, it was booked solid. This was 1938. That same year, Ogilvy convinced his bosses into sending him to the U.S. for a year.

    He ended up moving on to another job, this time with the George Gallup Audience Research Institute in New Jersey.

    The war came, and Ogilvy took a job with the British Embassy in Washington. After the war, he bought a house in Pennsylvania Dutch country and lived among the Amish. 

    A terrible farmer, he eventually packed up, and he and his wife moved to what has to be the polar opposite to Amish country -- Manhattan.

    Here's the juicy part of the story. 

    With only $6,000 in his pocket, Ogilvy talked his brother Francis -- now head of Mather and Crowther -- and another London ad agency into backing a new ad agency called Ogilvy, Benson, and Mather.

    Early on, he struggled to get clients.

    But he stuck to his guns. He had one core business strategy: The best way to get new clients is to do great work for current ones. And this measured not by how clever ads were, but how well they could sell. 

    It paid off, with legendary campaigns for Hathaway, Schweppes, Rolls Royce, Shell, even Puerto Rico, which owes a lot of its transformation into a major tourist destination to Ogilvy himself.

    One of his biggest unsung accomplishments: A headline for a new soap. "Only Dove is one-quarter cleansing cream," it read. Fifty years later, Dove 
    is still around, still uses the same core marketing position, and now outsells every other soap in the world.

    Ogilvy famously made all his new hires at the agency read Claude Hopkins' classic, "Scientific Advertising" (you can find it free online) at least seven times. 

    When I started writing copy, I got the same piece of advice... along with a recommendation to read Ogilvy's "Confessions of an Advertising Man" and "Ogilvy on Advertising" too.

    Ogilvy retired in 1973, to a chateau in France. But he stayed so involved, the local French post office had to be expanded and the staff got a pay raise, just to cover all the extra correspondence between Ogilvy and his agency insiders.

    Ogilvy died in 1999. 

    According to a Wikipedia entry, a 2004 Adweek survey asked which person, living or dead, inspired the most advertising careers. Ogilvy topped the list. Ogilvy had lots of good advice for people in our field. 

    How about we dig into some of it here?

    * Said Ogilvy, "Advertising is only evil when it advertises evil things."

    I couldn't agree more. You can't imagine how many times in a copywriting career you'll come across someone who, once they find out what you do, will slink away to the drink table after muttering some feeble excuse.

    The uninitiated, as a rule, disdain the salesman. But don't take it personally. Blame other salesmen instead. The used car salesman who sold them a lemon. The pushy department store clerk. The hype jockey who wrote a print ad hawking a substandard bill of goods.

    If you sell good products, with a good promise and for a good reason, to people who can really use what you're selling... you've got nothing to worry about.

    * Said Ogilvy, "Don't bunt. Aim out of the ball park. Aim for the company of immortals."

    It's easy to fall back on the tried and true. Even advisable when it comes to how to build the framework of ads, studying what's worked, and just building the groundwork in general.

    But you know -- or should know -- the difference between being sensible and being lazy. Clichés, for instance, are lazy. All the biggest hits of your career will come from bold, gutsy moves.

    * Said Ogilvy, "Good copy can't be written with tongue in cheek, written just for a living. You've got to believe in the product."

    I got the same piece of advice from my mentor, early in my career. A strong ad is more than a persuasion tool. It's a personal recommendation.

    How can you recommend something to somebody that you barely understand yourself? Or worse, that you understand but don't believe in?

    That's just one reason why, especially when you first get into the copywriting business, your best bet is to sell stuff you already know and even care about. 

    Even better for your career is to cultivate the kind of endless curiosity about new things that Ogilvy used to consider the top requirement of new hires.

    * Said Ogilvy, "If it doesn't sell, it isn't creative."

    I once heard someone call prospects who, er, didn't respond to a new ad in droves "heathens." 

    I've also seen some pretty smart people do a dumb thing, re-running ads they liked over and over again, even though they didn't work. On a couple of occasions, I may have been one of those people. 

    And Super Bowl ads? Don't get me started. They're often creative. Even celebrated. Some win awards. But do they sell the products they advertise?

    I remember a few years back a beer ad that featured a flatulent horse. I haven't had a Budweiser since.

    * Said Ogilvy, "Like a midwife, I make my living bringing new babies into the world, except that mine are new advertising campaigns."

    Oh, how I know the feeling. And you probably do too, if you've spent anything more than 24 hours trying to get one of your ads from idea to marketplace.

    Any copywriter that isn't asking to see the results, visiting spreadsheets and mailrooms, and repeatedly clicking links to see how his copy looks online... is no copywriter I know.

    If you don't keep after how your promos are doing, you don't have your head fully in this business... and should take up knitting or macramé instead.

    * Said Ogilvy, "When you advertise fire-extinguishers, open with the fire." 

    There are two messages here. One is that you want, as much as possible, to open with a bang. If you can't snag your prospect in the first microsecond, you won't get the chance to reel him back in later.

    The other message is that you can't properly sell a prospect on a solution unless the problem is keenly felt. That doesn't mean every ad needs to follow the problem-solution formula.

    It just means that if the problem you're solving for the prospect isn't one he cares about, you'll have a hard time making that sale. If need be, paint the picture right in front of him. Make him feel before you ask him to think.

    * One last Ogilvy quote: "You make the best products you can, and you grow as fast as you deserve to."

    One of my mentors, William Bonner, likes to say that we don't necessarily get what we want, but we always "get what we deserve." That's just as true in marketing and product-making as it is in any other field. 

    Make a bad product, get bad sales results. Or get good ones initially, but get found out. And shut down. By customers wielding pitchforks, more often than not.

    If you want to deserve better, sell stuff worth selling. It's that simple. Now, do all great products always sell as well as they should? No, they don't. But all great copywriters sell good products, as often as they can. Plain and simple. 



    "Develop your eccentricities while you are young. That way, when you get old, people won't think you're going gaga." If you think I'm gaga, let me know here: comment@jackforde.com
    "Unless your advertising contains a big idea, it will pass like a ship in the night." Don't let these big ideas get past you: http://copywritersroundtable.com   
    Oh, and...
    "Remove advertising, disable a person or firm from proclaiming its wares and their merits, and the whole of society and of the economy is transformed. The enemies of advertising are the enemies of freedom." Ignore this next bit, and you're also an enemy of freedom:  All the above is © 2019 by John Forde. Except those bits by David Ogilvy.
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