The Insight of David Ogilvy

There’s no question that Ogilvy’s insights into the marketing sector are what led to his success. While the world focuses mainly on the insights which brought him to prominence in marketing, he also had remarkable insight into the minds of his workers – a factor which interacted with the principles he espoused in his work, but was not entirely cut from the same cloth.

Ogilvy’s work is important because it brought him to the forefront of the marketing sector, with a series of highly successful campaigns. But it is also important for people who are studying marketing because Ogilvy marks a changing point in marketing – he brought with him the idea for a new type of marketing which was based on research and knowledge, rather than the unsubstantiated claims of the old marketing guard.

The new marketing technique Ogilvy came up with was, essentially, content marketing. According to, he pioneered what are now called “‘soft sell’ ads that didn’t insult the intelligence of the prospect” – information-rich adverts which had the goal of influencing prospects and making them more likely to become interested in the product being advertised.

While it is possible that Ogilvy was simply the right man in the right place to come up with these new insights into effective marketing, it may also have had a lot to do with his own life history. Before he got his start in marketing, Ogilvy worked as a door-to-door salesman, selling cookers to whoever would buy them. It’s been recorded that, unlike his peers in the sales business, he didn’t try to take advantage of the potential customers he had, but instead focused on selling his cookers by telling people the truth about what they did and what their capabilities were.

His experiences in the field selling cookers later became the basis for his insights into how to conduct an effective marketing campaign. Ogilvy was a champion of a very specific kind of marketing campaign – he stood for intelligent and research-based marketing over the lowest-common-denominator marketing which could (and still can!) so often appear in advertising.

While selling cookers door-to-door, Ogilvy would not only have been able to see if his technique of being honest with his prospects worked to sell cookers, he would have been able to compare his own results with the results of door-to-door salesmen who relied on the more traditional showmanship to get results. The insights he would have gained from this will have shaped the way he approached marketing, giving us the Ogilvy marketing campaigns we know today.

The insights of David Ogilvy came from his own experiences and views of the world. Now that advertising is becoming more digitalised along with every other aspect of society, perhaps we will find that our own experiences and views will change advertising yet again. Now is the time when digital ‘natives’ are becoming more prominent, replacing the old workforce of digital ‘immigrants’, so perhaps we are set for a new dawning of marketing techniques based on our own insights.

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Arnt Eriksen. Simplifying the complexity
of marketing and communication.

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