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Leadership Books
Posted at 07:15 PM ET, 03/07/2011

Reading ‘The King of Madison Avenue’

Title: The King of Madison Avenue: David Ogilvy and the Making of Modern Advertising
Author: Kenneth Roman
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010
ISBN-13: 978-0230100367, 304 pages

Author and adman Kenneth Roman worked for and with David Ogilvy for a quarter century at Ogilvy's groundbreaking ad agency Ogilvy & Mather. Thus, Roman is uniquely placed to understand Ogilvy in the context of his time and achievements. He presents Ogilvy's life and work, and explains what both meant at the time and now. Despite some unevenness in Roman's writing style and information flow, Ogilvy emerges as a singular hero in this saga of eccentricity, perseverance and native genius. getAbstract recommends this fast, insightful book to those who write advertising, those who want to, and those interested in the history of advertising and popular culture.

"The big idea"
David Ogilvy came to New York City to launch his advertising agency in 1948. He was 39 and had never written an ad. Five years later, trade magazines sang his praises; and five years after that, he became "the most discussed and publicized adman in a generation." His fame reached beyond America and his native United Kingdom; he was well known in Europe, India and South Africa. Widely credited with launching the primacy of brands, he became a brand himself.

Ogilvy broke many traditions on Madison Avenue, among them the unspoken restrictions that limited Jews to jobs with certain agencies and clients. He had his own style of communication, either talking nonstop or nodding. Ogilvy produced memos after every meeting and, though he avoided confrontation, these missives could be very stern. He popularized and lived by the "Big Idea," and his most enduring big idea was that nothing in marketing mattered as much as a brand.

An early outsider
David Mackenzie Ogilvy was born in 1911 on his father's and grandfather's birthday, June 23, and grew up in West Horsley, in Surrey near London. In an England where breeding determined fate, Ogilvy's paternal line was Scottish and his maternal family was Irish. Ogilvy referred to himself as a "Celt, not an Anglo-Saxon." From an early age, he branded himself an outsider.

When his aristocratic family fell on hard times, Ogilvy became a scholarship student at a Dickensian boarding school, St. Cyprian's, his father's alma mater. One day, the headmistress publicly humiliated Ogilvy for wanting a peach since she saw such fare as too extravagant for scholarship boys. He performed terribly at the school and escaped at age 13 to the relative haven of Fettes, a school near Edinburgh. With its Gothic architecture, "pinnacles, gables, buttresses and gargoyles, it is said to be the model for Hogwarts School...in J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter books." Though comfortable there, Ogilvy proved a mediocre student; he was easily distracted, undisciplined and bad at sports. Years later, addressing Fettes' student body, Ogilvy said: "Fellow duds, take heart! There is no correlation between success at school and success in life."

Owing to a family connection, Ogilvy entered Christ Church, a college at Oxford University in 1929. His family's financial desperation forced him to take an exam to qualify for a scholarship. Ogilvy found himself still distracted at university. He switched his course of study and finally, in 1931, suffered the indignity of being "sent down"--he was expelled from Oxford...


Click here to read on and receive a free summary of this book courtesy of getAbstract, the world's largest online library of business book summaries. (Available through March 2, 2011.)

By Thomas Bergen and getAbstract  |  07:15 PM ET, 03/07/2011

 
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