Childhood & Early Life
David Ogilvy was born on 23 June 1911, in West Horsley, England. His father was John Longley Ogilvy, a financial broker and classics scholar, and his mother was Dorothy Blew Fairfield.
He attended St Cyprian’s School in Eastbourne. Later, he studied at Fettes College, in Edinburgh, to which he had won a scholarship. He again won a scholarship in 1929, in History to Christ Church, Oxford. However, he found himself uninterested in studies, and therefore left Oxford in 1931 to work as an apprentice in the Hotel Majestic.
After a year, he went to Scotland and became a door-to-door salesman, selling pressure cookers. His employer noticed him being very good at this, and asked him to write an instruction manual for his fellow salesmen. He wrote ‘The Theory and Practice of Selling the AGA Cooker’ which was later called ‘the finest sales instruction manual ever written’ by editors of the ‘Fortune’ magazine.
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Getting noticed for his manual, David Ogilvy was offered a position as an accounting executive at the London Advertising Agency Mather & Crowther. Later, he persuaded his agency to send him to the United States for a year to work for George Gallup’s ‘Audience Research Institute’ in New Jersey.
He worked for the British Intelligence Service during World War II, at the British embassy in Washington D.C. Here he analyzed and made recommendations on matters of diplomacy and security. His superiors were impressed by Ogilvy’s skills with analysis, human behavior, consumerism, etc.
After the war, he found his work to be psychologically draining. So he bought a farm in Pennsylvania, and lived there for several years with his wife, among the Amish, to enjoy the serenity and abundant atmosphere. However, when he realized his limitations as a farmer, he moved to Manhattan.
In 1948, he founded his own advertising agency with the backing of his friends Mather and Crowther. Initially, Ogilvy had very little funds, and for some time, they had to struggle to get clients as well.
In the first twenty years of its existence, his agency won assignments from companies like Lever Brothers, General Foods and American Express, and several other reputed companies. One of his greatest successes was an ad campaign with the Dove soap which helped it become the top-selling soap in the United States.
David Ogilvy’s principle was to be successful with his existing clients and do notable work for them in order to get big and better clients. He was highly successful in his early campaigns which helped him get big clients such as Rolls-Royce and Shell.
Ogilvy merged his agency in 1965 with Mather & Crowther to form an international company Ogilvy & Mather. Slowly it started expanding around the world, and earned quite a lot of reputation worldwide.
In 1973, he took retirement as the Chairman of Ogilvy & Mather, and shifted to France. He still stayed in touch with the company and was informed about it, though he was no longer involved with its day to day activities.
In the 1980s, he decided to come out of retirement. He took over as the chairman of his company’s office in India. At the same time, he visited branches of the company all over the world, and continued to represent the company at official meetings as well.
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In 1989, the Ogilvy Group was purchased by WPP, a firm owned by Sir Martin Sorrell, and David Ogilvy was named non-executive chairman. He held the position for three years.
His first work, which was just an instruction manual named ‘The Theory and Practice of Selling the AGA cooker’, proved to be the turning point in his career, as it landed him a job as an account executive from a mere door-to-door salesman.
’Confessions of an Advertising Man’ (1963), which is a general commentary on advertising, can be regarded as the best work of David Ogilvy. It is also considered to be one of the best books for people who are aspiring to work in this field. By 2008, it had over a million copies published worldwide. It provided detailed instructions on managing an ad agency, getting and managing clients, building great campaigns, making good television commercials, etc.
Awards & Achievements
Though Ogilvy had wanted to achieve knighthood, he couldn’t. However in 1967, he was made a Commander of the Order of British Empire. In 1968, he was appointed as a Chairman of the United Negro College Fund.
In 1975, the Executive Council of the World Wildlife Fund appointed him as a Trustee. In 1977, he was elected to the US Advertising Hall of Fame. In 1979, he was inducted into the Junior Achievement U.S Business Hall of Fame.
In 1990, he was elected to France’s Order of Arts and Letters.
He had also served as a member of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 100th Anniversary Committee.
Personal Life & Legacy
His first wife was Melinda Street, with whom he had a child named David Fairfield Ogilvy. However, the couple divorced in 1955. His second marriage was to Anne Cabot; it also had the same ending. Later, he married Herta Lans in 1973 while he was in France.
He passed away on 21 July 1999, at his home, in Bonnes, France. He was 88.