Confessions of an Advertising Man by David Ogilvy
(Southbank Publishing, 2011, 190 pages)
If you were a fan of the TV show Mad Men, then you may well remember the name David Ogilvy. His name, along with those of real companies like BBDO and McCann Erickson, frequently pop up in the conversations around the fictional agency Sterling Cooper. Ogilvy was one of the Madison Avenue advertising executives whose image and attitude heavily informed the show.
Ogilvy’s Confessions of an Advertising Man is fascinating on several levels. For fans of Mad Men it is important source material. For those in advertising or related fields, it contains important business principles that survive its sometimes dated reference points. For writers and communicators, Ogilvy both elucidates and displays principles of clear and direct written communication. Much of Ogilvy’s advice to advertisers is accompanied by stories of his own success in the business. He was not lacking in self-confidence, but his boasting is more entertaining than irritating.
The best parts of the book are Ogilvy’s pithy bits of wisdom. This “David Ogilvy Centennial Edition” of the book includes a collection of “Ogilvy-isms,” including these:
- “It is important to admit your mistakes and to do so before you are charged with them.”
- “Big ideas are usually simple ideas.”
- “Tell the truth, but make the truth fascinating.”
Here are a few of my favorite “Ogilvy-isms” from the rest of the book:
- “Managing an advertising agency isn’t all beer and skittles.”
- “I like to succeed in public, but to fail in secret.”
- “The consumer isn’t a moron; she is your wife.”
These confessions from the original Mad Man are entertaining and enlightening. If you want to better understand the culture of Madison Avenue in the 1950s and 60s, Ogilvy’s book is essential reading.