The former chairman and CEO of Ogilvy & Mather offers a portrait of the ad agency’s legendary founder.
Roman begins with expatriate Brit David Ogilvy, nearly 40, quietly opening his first Manhattan office on Madison Avenue in 1948 after short stints as a chef, a poll researcher for Gallup and an Amish country farmer. A business novice with negligible advertising experience, known to don a “full-length flowing black cape with a scarlet lining” that made him look “like Heathcliff coming off the moors,” Ogilvy took the advertising industry by storm in just ten years. He started small then advanced quickly with an unmatched portfolio of campaigns for high-profile companies like Schweppes, Dove, Tetley Tea, Pepperidge Farm and Rolls-Royce. Culled from memories of his 26-year stint working alongside Ogilvy, plus nearly 200 interviews with business contemporaries and close acquaintances, Roman reveals how the ad man earned his peers’ supreme respect with his interrogative, disarming presence, yet retained an outspoken shrewdness. The author does note, however, that while Ogilvy achieved many public accolades throughout his professional career, his personal life was troublesome. His first two marriages ended in divorce, and he never fulfilled his desire for a large family. His not-terribly-happy childhood was scanted in his 1978 autobiography Blood, Brains and Beer; Roman fills in the blanks here. Plagued with chronic asthma, he had “a distinctly original mind” that did not jibe with his teachers at an oppressive British boarding school or at Oxford. His grades suffered, and he struggled with low self-esteem. Psychotherapy in middle age revitalized and overstimulated his suppressed ego; he could be, the author notes, “self-centered and inconsiderate.” Ogilvy retired to a palatial French chateau in 1973 and died in the summer of 1999, leaving behind an unrivaled advertising legacy. An afterword containing unpublished correspondence and a generous selection of photographs draws readers further into his world.
Straightforward, well-crafted biography of the outsider who shaped American advertising.