I grew up in a family of serious smart. Like Harvard and Bryn Mawr degrees-smart. And, while I was not the stellar scholar that my parents always were when I pursued my English degree at Boston University, my Dad taught me something else: to listen well, to see different points of view and to realize that at any moment I might be privy to a life story or experience that would change me a bit.
After all, it had happened to him once with the Father of Advertising himself, David Ogilvy in 1965. One chance meeting with Mr. Ogilvy and he remembers it to this day. They had nothing much in common at the time: David Ogilvy was a pioneer in the world of advertising and making the rounds of the lecture circuit after his game-changing publication Confessions of an Advertising Man, and while that was not my Dad’s niche, he realized he was in the presence of an incredible perspective and it was probably a good idea to pay attention.
All of these years later, he shared his memories of that incredible chance meeting with me:
“I was a student at Harvard Business School, and David Ogilvy was there giving a lecture. The marketing group had invited him in, and though I wasn’t formally a member of the group I asked if they didn’t mind if I just came in and listened to it, and they said that was fine. So, I went and I listened to a lecture because the man always fascinated me. I always thought of him as a very accomplished person in his field. He told some fascinating stories. He mentioned one that his firm had a contract to encourage people to get down to an island in the Caribbean. They were trying to get business settled in there, and he said that their problem was that they had to take, and these are pretty close to his exact words, a rat-infested, disease-ridden, poverty-stricken island and turn it into a tropical paradise. Which according to him, they succeeded at doing. And then one of the students mentioned the ads for a brand of beer that were great, but the beer didn’t sell, why not? To which he answered loudly ‘Beer!’—his idea was that if you didn’t have a good product, you can’t move it, and therefore almost anything won’t sell.
“He also talked about one of his other accounts, Dove Soap. He said that they almost never asked for formulas because they try to keep it secret, but in this case he said he had a hunch so they did. The net result was that they found out that they were putting face cream in the soap and so that ran an ad campaign based on the fact that every time you washed your face you get a facial. Of course, it caught on.
“People asked him where his inspiration came from and he said long walks in the woods, particularly in the fall, hot baths and John Barleycorn. Apparently he gave up the John Barleycorn at some point because years later I read in a book that he had bought a house and vineyard in France, but he had to get someone to test the grapes after it was made into the wine to see how good it was because he had an abhorrence of alcohol.
“At one point during his speech, he said that the only thing duller than meeting with a group of bankers was meeting with a group of corporate lawyers. After his lecture I walked along with him, this was some time in the winter because the snow had all been shoveled out of the way (Harvard was always so good about keeping the walks so clear you never needed rubbers). He had an umbrella with him and along the way, he stopped to poke the umbrella. The snow was kind of crystallized, and he asked me what I was going to be doing after school. I told him that I was a lawyer and a member of the bar association and had accepted a position, he said he said I hope I didn’t offend you with my comments. I said, ‘Actually no, I’m going to be teaching. I’m starting next year at Boston University,’ to which he said, ‘That’s a horse of a very different color.’
“He was an extraordinarily personable man, he gave a terrific lecture, I got the impression that he was very bright, very articulate, very quick, and he was the kind of a man who had a lot of imagination and could apply it to his particular public relations skills. I was highly impressed with this.
“He had a great influence on me in many ways, given the fact that it was only that one time I saw him. I think one was the idea that if you can turn something into a pithy phrase, something that’s catchy, doesn’t take too many words, and can get an idea across it really carries a punch and people remember it. The way you say something is sometimes just as important as what you’re trying to say. I’ll give you an example: I have always told my classes that once they become lawyers, they have four great principles that they should never forget when it comes to their clients: they are always in good faith; they’re always reasonable; and you should always have a shoe shine and a smile. They never forgot it.”
This week, as it is bookended by Father’s Day and Mr. Ogilvy’s 101st birthday, we will pay tribute to my incredible dad and his encounter with the Father of Advertising—both of whom have inspired what we do here at RBD every day. Be sure to come back and check it out!
Happy Father’s Day, Daddy.
You really are the best, D
P.S. Tell us: Is there someone who has made a lasting impact on your life?