Archive for January, 2012

British-born David Ogilvy was one of the original, and greatest, “ad men.” In 1948, he started what would eventually be known as Ogilvy & Mather, the Manhattan-based advertising agency that has since been responsible for some of the world’s most iconic ad campaigns, and in 1963 he even wrote Confessions of an Advertising Man, the best-selling book that is still to this day considered essential reading for all who enter the industry. Time magazine called him “the most sought-after wizard in today’s advertising industry” in the early-’60s; his name, and that of his agency, have been mentioned more than once in Mad Men for good reason.

With all that in mind, being able to learn of his routine when producing the very ads that made his name is an invaluable opportunity. The fascinating letter below, written by Ogilvy in 1955 to a Mr. Ray Calt, offers exactly that.

(Source: The Unpublished David Ogilvy: A Selection of His Writings from the Files of His Partners; Image: David Ogilvy, courtesy of Ads of the World.)

April 19, 1955

Dear Mr. Calt:

On March 22nd you wrote to me asking for some notes on my work habits as a copywriter. They are appalling, as you are about to see:

1. I have never written an advertisement in the office. Too many interruptions. I do all my writing at home.

2. I spend a long time studying the precedents. I look at every advertisement which has appeared for competing products during the past 20 years.

3. I am helpless without research material—and the more “motivational” the better.

4. I write out a definition of the problem and a statement of the purpose which I wish the campaign to achieve. Then I go no further until the statement and its principles have been accepted by the client.

5. Before actually writing the copy, I write down ever concievable fact and selling idea. Then I get them organized and relate them to research and the copy platform.

6. Then I write the headline. As a matter of fact I try to write 20 alternative headlines for every advertisement. And I never select the final headline without asking the opinion of other people in the agency. In some cases I seek the help of the research department and get them to do a split-run on a battery of headlines.

7. At this point I can no longer postpone the actual copy. So I go home and sit down at my desk. I find myself entirely without ideas. I get bad-tempered. If my wife comes into the room I growl at her. (This has gotten worse since I gave up smoking.)

8. I am terrified of producing a lousy advertisement. This causes me to throw away the first 20 attempts.

9. If all else fails, I drink half a bottle of rum and play a Handel oratorio on the gramophone. This generally produces an uncontrollable gush of copy.

10. The next morning I get up early and edit the gush.

11. Then I take the train to New York and my secretary types a draft. (I cannot type, which is very inconvenient.)

12. I am a lousy copywriter, but I am a good editor. So I go to work editing my own draft. After four or five editings, it looks good enough to show to the client. If the client changes the copy, I get angry—because I took a lot of trouble writing it, and what I wrote I wrote on purpose.

Altogether it is a slow and laborious business. I understand that some copywriters have much greater facility.

Yours sincerely,

D.O.

Much respect.

Advertisements

Emile Zola famously stated back in 1901, “In my view, you cannot claim to have really seen something until you have photographed it.” Today, some make a similar joke: “it did not happen unless it is posted on Facebook.”

For those who use Facebook, whose friends are on the site and logging in many times a day, we have come to experience the world differently. We are increasingly aware of how our lives will look as a Facebook photo, status update or check-in. As I type this in a coffee shop, I can “check-in” on Foursquare, I can “tweet” a funny one-liner overheard from the table next to me and I can take an ‘interesting’ photo of the perfectly-formed foam on top of my cappuccino. It is easy; I can do all of this and more from my phone in a matter of minutes. And, most importantly, there will be an audience for all of this. Hundreds of the people I am closest with will view all of this and some will reply with comments and “likes.”

Simply, I have been trained to see the world in terms of what I can post to the Internet. I’ve learned to live and present a life that is “likeable.”

Many have rightly criticized Facebook over how the site turns the unquantifiable beauty of human experience into something that fits into a database , or how Facebook misuses that database to earn fantastic profits. These are valid critiques; however, my concern is that the ultimate power of social media is how it burrows into us, our minds, our consciousness, changing how we consciously experience the world even when logged off.

Atlantic editor Alexis Madrigal wrote about how technology changes consciousness. For example, the invention of the railroad changed our perception of speed. He writes, “humans had to learn to look at the landscape, instead of trying to focus on the foreground.” The photograph Zola spoke of did the same. Invented some 150 years ago, photography caused a global sensation around the new possibility: to document ourselves and our world in new ways, in greater detail and in lasting permanence.

Today, social media has also provided a new, more social way to document ourselves, lives and world. Never before was it possible to record and displayto all of our friends a stream of photos, check-ins and status updates filled with our thoughts and opinions in such quantity and with such ease. The transformative power of social media surely is of similar magnitude and consequence as the invention of the photograph.

The photographer knows well that after taking many pictures one develops “the camera eye”: vision becomes like the viewfinder, always perceiving the world through the logic of the camera mechanism via framing, lighting, depth of field, focus, movement and so on. Even without the camera in hand the world becomes transformed into the status of the potential-photograph.

Today, we are in danger of developing a “Facebook Eye”: our brains always looking for moments where the ephemeral blur of lived experience might best be translated into a Facebook post; one that will draw the most comments and “likes.”

Facebook fixates the present as always a future past. By this I mean that social media users have become always aware of the present as something we can post online that will be consumed by others. Are we becoming so concerned about posting our lives on Facebook that we forget to live our lives in the here-and-now? Think of a time when you took a trip holding a camera in your hand and then think of when you did the same without the camera. The experience is slightly different. We have a different attachment to our present when we are not concerned with documenting.

Today, social media means we are always traveling with the camera in our hands (metaphorically and often literally); we always can document. When going to see live music I notice more and more people distracted from the performance in order to take photos and videos to post to Facebook and YouTube. When the breakfast I made the other week looked especially delicious, I posted a photo of it before even taking a bite. The Facebook Eye in action.

Susan Sontag once wrote that “everything exists to end in a photograph” and today we might say that more and more of what we do exists to end up on Facebook. The tail of Facebook documentation has come to wag the dog of lived experience.

A great read from Nathan Jurgenson at the Atlantic on how social media changes the way we perceive the world.