An open letter to David Ogilvy

Dear Mr.Ogilvy (or shall we stick with Mr.Father-of-Advertising),

I write this open letter with the intent of expressing my admiration for you, your principles and your work.

If you have wi-fi up there, you’d probably have conceptualized all the Dove, Schwepp's, Mercedes, & Shell ads in the last decade, but somehow I doubt that. They don’t quite have the same touch.

I wish you were alive to see the opportunities we have today to create “direct response ads”. Agencies and clients, no less, have multiple direct response experts to tell you what will work and what won’t, experts to measure the success of this direct response, real-time and at the end of a campaign; Heck, we don’t just have experts, sir, we have dedicated teams to do this. I must tell you though, they’ve coined a new term for it - instant gratification marketing.

You see, Mr.FOA (Is it OK if I abbreviate your nick name? I feel like I’ve grown to know you quite well), with the phenomena of social media came a wave of agencies. Dedicated agencies for web, dedicated agencies for social media, dedicated agencies for media buying. The only thing that comes to mind is your speech “We sell or else” when you said, “Some of you may remember when television agencies were kept separate. Wasn’t that idiotic?”

It was idiotic indeed and it remains idiotic today. This landscape is littered with “specialised agencies”, think division of labor but instead of human beings splitting the work, agencies do. Think about what it does to the client, or as you like to call them “customer”. How much more complex we’ve made their lives. We’re asking them to pay 5 different agencies to “focus” on what they’re good at when to be quite frank, sir, with all the time they spend on orchestrating and monitoring each agency, they might as well hire a few advertising goons and do it themselves.

Speaking of your speech, there was one part in particular that really did resonate with me. The part about indulging the creative egoists and, sadly, even awarding them.

“They worship at the altar of creativity, which really means originality - the most dangerous word in the lexicon of advertising. They opine that 30-second commercials are more cost effective than two-minute commercials. You know they're wrong. In print advertising, they opine that short commercials sell more than long copy. You know they're wrong. They indulge in entertainment. You know to a dollar they don't. Why don't you tell em? Why don't you save them for their follies?”

You see, what you feared about creativity worship seems to have become a reality. Direct-response (Instant Gratification) Advertising exists now more than ever before, but we’ve forgotten the true measure of success. We pick the ideas that are “bigger and better” than the competitors, be it a competitor agency or a competitor of the client. We do not pick the ideas that create the “let us march against Phillip” response, but the “how well he speaks” kind of ads.

We’re stuck in the epidemic, nay, pandemic, of “creativity”. I like to call it the “Innovation Rut”. The term is ever so loosely thrown around, that we’ve come decades from where we begun in advertising but strayed on a different tangent all together.

To your dismay, Mr.Ogilvy, we have no only convinced our customers/clients that creativity “sells”, we have convinced the agencies and worst of all, ourselves. Clients aren’t looking to create an honest ad, they’re looking at creating an ad that creates the biggest “buzz” in the advertising world, hoping it will reach their competitors. They’re not looking to be ethical or unethical, they do just enough to not get sued (which, trust me, is becoming increasingly harder in America nowadays).

I’ll leave you with this, Mr.Father-of-Advertising, if in some twisted parallel universe, you’re running your own show and reaping the benefits of social media (should it even exist there), I know you’re doing a more meaningful job. I know that the measure of your ads are more profound than the shallow “Likes” that infest our data reports.

Yours Sincerely,

An Agency Ant (Shyaire Ganglani)

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