Ken Roman


The former Chairman of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, Ken Roman began his presentation by referring to the recent television series, Mad Men.  In that show the advertising men smoked, drank and hit on women.  Mr. Roman was interested to know if those were true advertising men attributes during that era (the late 50s and 60s).  To find out, a questionnaire was prepared for a conference where many of those men would be gathered.  The results were as follows: 

  • 58% smoked a pack or more a day
  • 65% drank at lunch
  • 58% said that sexual liaisons occurred in the office with an additional 18% saying that there were strong rumors to that effect

But the main thrust of Mr. Roman’s talk concerned David Ogilvy, who is widely regarded as the most influential man in the history of advertising.  Mr. Ogilvy was responsible for the Hathaway shirt ads, which started a cultural trend; the Commander Whitehead, Schweppes ads, the Rolls Royce ad, which had to be discontinued because it put too great a strain on Rolls production and the Dove soap ads, which sold more product than any other ads in history, just to name a few.  

Mr. Roman related that Ogilvy had been sent to boarding schools and then went to Oxford where he proved to be an unmotivated student and eventually dropped out.  From there, Ogilvy went to Paris to become an under-chef at the Hotel Majestic; it was during this period that he learned about standards.  Things had to be perfect or they were bad.  

After Paris Ogilvy went to Scotland and became a salesman for high end stoves, which he sold door to door during the Depression.  He rapidly became the firm’s most successful salesman and was asked to write the firm’s sales manual, which is still regarded as a sales classic.

Following his stove selling days, Ogilvy joined his brother’s firm and fairly soon thereafter migrated to the U.S.  The war ensued not long after his arrival here and after the war Ogilvy became a “gentleman farmer” in the Pennsylvania Dutch area.  But what he was really doing was studying advertising.

At age 38, Ogilvy started his own advertising firm in New York City.  Ten years later it was the top firm in the country.  Ogilvy won his clients through a combination of genius, charm and a great acting ability.  He knew what his clients wanted and needed and made sure they got it in the most dramatic fashion possible.  Stories would be exaggerated for effect.  Attire would be selected to complement the role he chose to play, or to steal attention away from competition.  But it is acknowledged that he changed the ad industry.  He gave a role to consumer research, popularized the concept of “brand image” and made sure his ads were in good taste.  Later he wrote “Confessions of An Advertising Man”, which is still in print and frequently referenced.

After retiring, Ogilvy moved to a chateau in France, which is still owned by this third and final wife.  He died in 1999.

Q & A

Q.  What should VW do to repair its image?

A.  Most car ads today are incomprehensible because they are too technical.  VW might try going back to a brand image approach emphasizing high quality and efficiency.

Q.  What happened to the firm after Ogilvy left?

A.  It was taken over in 1989 and became part of the WPP Group.  It still does advertising of a sort.

Q.  What would the agency have done with social media and the Internet?

A.  It and all other old style agencies would do very badly.  The old agencies were structured to deal with a different world with a critical mass of clients and fixed fees.  Today the market is so fragmented and even fees are being constantly negotiated.

Q.  How do the Neilsen ratings work?  I have never seen a box or heard of anyone having one.

A.  I have never seen a box either.  We take it on faith that they are there and measuring viewing audiences.  With social media and the Internet you can count clicks as a measurement.  But types of media never really get supplanted they just change their forms.