Making the humdrum sparkle

James Williamson explores how one of David Ogilvy's earliest works proves that exceptional creative talent can elevate even the driest content to Olympian heights.

David Mackenzie Ogilvy is a legendary figure in the world of advertising. Born in 1911, his career spanned the twentieth century and epitomised the industry’s glamorous golden age. He worked on iconic campaigns for the likes of Rolls-Royce and Schweppes and he penned some great, oft-quoted, lines of advice: "You cannot bore people into buying your product” and famously "the consumer is not a moron, she is your wife" (admittedly, the latter sentiment would require a serious update for 2019 audiences).

But Ogilvy wasn’t always an Ad-man. After a short stint as an apprentice chef in Paris, he fell into door-to-door sales for AGA ovens - a far cry from the glitz of Madison Avenue. But you can’t keep a good man down and such was his success that his bosses soon asked him to write an instruction manual to help his fellow salesmen. This resulted in The Theory and Practice of Selling the AGA Cooker. I recently tracked a copy down and expected it to be as dull and uninspiring as its decidedly un-pithy title might suggest. I was dead wrong. It’s a cracking read: short, punchy, funny and astute. It includes some vivid insights into the etiquette of 1930s Great Britain, “There are certain universal rules. Dress quietly and shave well. Do not wear a bowler hat…” as well as some timeless lessons on the art of sales, “… avoid standardisation in your sales talk. If you find yourself one fine day saying the same things to a bishop and a trapezist, you are done for.” I read the pamphlet from cover to cover and enjoyed every word. I even considered buying an AGA. Briefly.

The key takeaway for me was that excellent creative minds can always find ways to make any kind of material engaging. And this is something that we strive to do every day at MerchantCantos. Our clients entrust us to capture the attention of their audiences and communicate business-critical, but sometimes potentially dry, material... cyber-security awareness programmes, employee share schemes and sustainability reports to name but a few. Our teams of strategists and creatives thrive on finding fresh ways to engage interest and ensure the key messages hit home in a memorable way. It’s a challenging but fun way to make a living, and it definitely beats door-to-door sales.

Mr Ogilvy, we doff our (non-bowler) hats to you.

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