George Parker: why Miles Young’s Ogilvy on Advertising in the Digital Age matters

Back in 1963 David Ogilvy wrote his first book, Confessions of an Advertising Man. He begins the final chapter by telling us that his elder sister, Lady Henry, a socialist (Shock, horror) invited him to agree with her that advertising should be abolished, to which he replied… “No, my darling, advertising should not be abolished. But it must be reformed.”

That was more than fifty years ago. Since then, advertising has been reformed after a fashion, being dragged behind the wood shed, carved into small pieces and then reassembled into gargantuan sized holding companies. We survived the dotcom implosion that left many agencies with massive unpaid service and media bills. We are now inundated with digital buzzwords, acronyms and exotic titles for senior agency executives that will no doubt have changed by the time you read this.

Poor old David must be spinning under the turf of Chateau Toufou as he contemplates just what the heck is going on in the business he loved so much and did so much to enhance. Not to worry, Miles Young (long-time Ogilvy boss), has come to the rescue.

In 1983, David published his second book, Ogilvy on Advertising. A masterful treatise on how to create advertising that not only works, but doesn’t insult the intelligence of the target audience. Obviously, back in those days David concentrated on his forte. Print. As for TV, even though he convinced Eleanor Roosevelt to appear in an unfortunate campaign for margarine, that’s best left untouched.

Now Miles has done a wonderful sequel… Ogilvy on Advertising in the Digital Age. An exhaustingly researched and masterfully written guide to how we got where we are now, and where we might possibly be going in the future. Unlike the usual insufferable business books such as The Immutable Marketing Secrets of the Kalahari Nomads, which litter the shelves of the few remaining book stores, Miles’s book is a substantial analysis of the current and possibly future state of the advertising business.

But be warned, this is not to be contemplated unless you are ready to devote substantial time and effort into understanding the salient points he is making. It will be worth the effort. I share with him his supposition that the media is not the message. The message is the message. The media might perhaps merely help to distribute the message. All those currently trumpeting how digital is radically changing the way advertising works should be beaten over the head with a gnarly stick until they have read this book.

Spoiler Alert… In the original Ogilvy on Advertising book David ended up on the final page giving thirteen predictions of what will happen to the ad biz in the future, most of them were somewhat innocuous. However, number eight was… “Candidates for political office will stop using dishonest advertising.” Well, that worked out well, didn’t it? In spite of this, Miles has done an “homage” by sticking his neck out and listing thirteen predictions of what will happen to the ad biz in the future. I almost choked on my breakfast beer when I read number nine… “Candidates for political office will continue to use dishonest advertising.” Most of the rest might conceivably happen too. But who knows in what is unquestionably the world’s craziest business.

However, as David suggested more than fifty years ago, advertising must be reformed. This is happening apace in this increasingly digital world. And even if, like me, you do not agree with certain parts of this reformation, you will find Ogilvy on Advertising in the Digital Age an essential and invaluable guide to it.

George Parker is one of the few remaining “Mad Men,” and is the author of The Ubiquitous Persuaders and Confessions of a Mad Man.

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