"I wish I could be with you today, in the flesh as they say, but I'm in India. Ever been in India? Very hot. If you don't mind, I'm going to take off my coat."
So begins a remarkable seven-minute video which the late David Ogilvy made in his eminently imitable style and delivered in absentia to a direct marketing conference. I'm reminded of it because we're in India, exploring, speaking and learning. It is indeed hot, but Ogilvy says lots of other things too, which seem just as simple, but conceal a lot of complexity. To explore that, I've created this not-quite-Socratic dialogue from his words.
Faris Yakob: David, let's start with your thoughts about the advertising industry.
David Ogilvy: You know, in the advertising community today, there are two worlds - the world of direct-response advertising, and that other world, the world of general advertising. These two worlds are on a collision course.
FY: What separates them?
DO: You direct-response people know what kind of advertising works and what doesn't work. You know it to a dollar. The general advertising people don't know.
FY: By general advertising, you mean what we now call brand advertising, the effect of which is much harder to measure, since it's accretive over longer time periods. But the most robust data we have suggests focusing on short-term response is harmful over the long term. What do you think of print, your favoured medium, and the much-maligned thirty-second spot?
DO: In print advertising, you know that long copy sells more than short copy. You know that headlines and copy about the product and its benefits sell more than cute headlines and poetic copy. You know it to a dollar. They opine that thirty-second commercials are more cost-effective than two-minute commercials. You know they're wrong.
FY: I'm afraid long copy barely even exists anymore; the industry doesn't think people can pay enough attention. Nevertheless, surely this again assumes direct response is the only effect? What about price inelasticity of demand which commands price premiums over decades? Clearly, the RoI debate continues. Why do you think that is?
DO: The general advertisers and their agencies know almost nothing for sure because they cannot measure the results of their advertising. They worship at the altar of creativity, which really means originality, the most dangerous word in the lexicon of advertising.
FY: Absolutely. Originality is a myth. Nothing can come from nothing because one cannot invent without inventory. And we must measure impact and use data, not 'our gut', to inform advertising. Do you believe in integration?
DO: I predict that the practitioners of general advertising are going to start learning from your [direct marketers'] experience. I see no reason why the direct-response divisions of agencies should be separate from the main agencies. Some of you may remember when television agencies were kept separate. Wasn't that idiotic?
FY: Indeed. But instead, we have fragmented further. There are now separate agencies that handle direct-response, or performance marketing, or media, or digital... Speaking of 'digital', the all-encompassing term that dominates debate, what do you see there?
DO: Until recently, direct response was the 'Cinderella' of the advertising world. Then came the computer and the credit card, and direct marketing exploded. You guys are coming into your own. Your opportunities are colossal. Your timing is perfect. You've come into the direct-response business at the right moment in history.
FY: Yes, that's basically what happened. The computer and the credit card promised to turn all digital media into a measurable contact and sales channel, which were measured as direct response. Unfortunately, this had some side effects, leading to a race to the bottom in terms of the cheapest possible reach, which was often found outside of legitimate media organs. The blurring of church and state within media to combat this threat to their budgets eroded trust across the board and ever-present screens meant advertising inserted itself everywhere. Now the advertiser-funded media model is under threat, as those same computers can be used to fake many of the intermediate metrics used to evaluate media deployments. We became obsessed with measuring things, but it turns out we were measuring the wrong things. It all seems a bit crazy, to be honest. Any final thoughts, David?
DO: You have it in your power to rescue the advertising business from its manifold lunacies.
FY: We can but hope.