David Ogilvy’s Ogilvy on Advertising has been the bible for aspiring advertising and marketing professionals. Today, Miles Young, Ogilvy’s non-executive chairman, previews his book, Ogilvy on Advertising in the Digital Age. I spoke with Miles Young about the book – specifically about the strategies and insights for navigating within the current environment and how the book is a testament to Ogilvy’s Next Chapter strategy, which is focused on how to make brands matter in today’s modern marketing era.
Question: Globalization and digital transformation have changed how brands communicate today. What are you seeing right now in the marketplace?
Young: The Internet is changing things quite dramatically. There are no longer any hiding places for brands – they have to be open, well-behaved, inclusive of all elements in society, and most importantly, they have to matter to people. Brands today can’t just claim and promise something, and then do nothing. From our research, we’ve observed that the more brands actually do something, the more likely they are to be respected in this digital age. And one of the things that they can do to earn that respect is create interesting news or content for consumers.
Question: David Ogilvy’s Ogilvy on Advertising has been the bible for aspiring advertising and marketing professionals all over the world. Why did you write this book now and do you think it was the right time?
Young: I wanted to direct people back to David’s book because it still is the advertising bible. In the 1970s, David saw “an attempt to disentangle the eternal verities from the passing facts”. That is even more necessary now, and the digital revolution has changed so many things in a variety of ways. The point of this book is to say that the screenplay and the script may be different, but the process is very much the same. David believed in big, simple ideas, and one of the challenges of the digital age is that people have confused the medium with the message. In elevating digital platforms as we have, we’ve forgotten what really matters – what you say to people and how you say it to them.
Question: If you had to think about one or two key takeaways that advertising and marketing professionals today should take from the new book, what would those be?
Young: There is this idea of “either…or” where people are saying either digital or traditional, and that translates into the belief that everything else that’s happened before it is dead. So, the first takeaway is to not believe in the idea or the argument that everything is dead. Digital has been absolutely transformative, but it works best in combination with things that have been around for a long time. Digital is a re-framer, an advisor for traditional ways of doing things and therefore, it’s not a complete replacement.
The second takeaway is to understand just how exponentially digital changed the nature of our business into being a business that’s more about content. Old-fashioned advertising, which is a sledgehammer at its worst, invaded your space and commanded you to buy something. This tactic has disappeared completely in this digital world. Today, the goal is to give the consumers a choice as to whether he or she wants to enter into and engage with the content a brand has designed. Digital has put the ownership on the customer, and that’s a really powerful and significant change because there’s a reversal on the tradition role of advertiser and consumer.
Question: Tell us about the process of putting this book together.
Young: It was all written at Ogilvy, and the book reflects the work of hundreds of colleagues, which makes this their book really. What I wanted it to be was a practical book. There are lots of books about digital, written from very theoretical perspectives, but it wouldn’t help someone who’s interested in getting into the business and learning about advertising in a commonsensical way, which is what I want this book to do.
Question: Our industry is going through a tremendous amount of change, and if you could predict the things we’d have to manage or the next big thing, what would you like for our readers to take away? What’s next for our industry?
Young: We’ve been through a period of complications, and I believe we’re moving into a period of grace and simplicity, or I hope that we will. At the end of the day, it’s easy to complicate the world and hard to be simple, making the huge transformation of media and in all of the platforms more difficult to communicate and navigate with. However, it doesn’t need to be. What we’re arguing in the book is that it’s time to return to the simple truths, and if you start with those, then everything else falls into place. If you don’t and focus on everything else, it’s difficult to discern the simple truths and undergrowth, which prevents growth and overall advancement.