Wednesday, July 25, 2012


I joined Ogilvy & Mather on July 19th, 1999. I remember this in part because just three days later I was in my office--early--and I heard bagpipes coming down the hallway. A moment later, there was an honor guard of Scotsmen. David Ogilvy had died and the agency was paying tribute.

In any event, when I arrived at Ogilvy I immediately was handed what Steve Hayden would call "a steaming pile of shit." Someone had sold a B2B campaign on IBM--three long-copy (probably 500 words each) ads on vertical topics. Then, whoever sold the campaign disappeared and there was no one to write the copy.

It was complicated stuff this copy. And long. And the ads were due overnight.

I figured out how to write them in a modular manner. Having, as they say, different ins and outs, but the same body. Thus, I was able to complete what to everyone else seemed an impossible task in about four hours.

What I had written was my first output at Ogilvy and I sent the copy to the account team with more than a little trepidation. A few minutes later I was cc'd on a note from the account guy that went to most of senior management on the IBM account.

In the note he praised my copy. Saying it was long copy in the tradition of David Ogilvy's long copy. It was lucid. Interesting. And forceful. In other words, I had hit a homerun.

I bring this reminiscence up for good reason. Not to praise my writing skill, but, instead to lament that the love of copy, the love of good writing and well-reasoned persuasion seems to have withered. As has the effectiveness of advertising in general.

Ogilvy used to be revered for its Ogilvy-style copy. Scali for its McCabeness. Ally for the words of Messner and Berger and Durfee. Ammirati for its Puris-ness and Tom Thomasosity.

There were defined styles and writers we looked up to and learned from.

Where is that today?

In 2010 there were over 325,000 titles published in the United States and 206,000 titles published in England. In the US, hundreds, maybe thousands of magazines are published. Go to any newsstand--they all appear bursting at the seams.

But a big lie persists.

No one reads, we're told.

Words don't matter seems a shibboleth.

It seems we've actually convinced ourselves that we're dumb, that we don't care, that we can't stand reasoning.

Maybe the reason so many marketing communications fail is that we stopped caring about what matters most: the elegant simplicity of a well-crafted message.

We are more concerned with decoration, frippery and nonsense.

Of course, I have an axe to grind here.

I am a writer of the old school.

I learn everything I can about a client, their offering, their place in the market and the consumer. Then I write one-to-one to that consumer. And help him or her see things my way.

That's what I do.

If you know anyone looking for a writer, let me know.