David Ogilvy’s Direct Marketing predictions still resonate in a digital world…

I was lucky enough to run Ogilvy & Mather Direct during the first great decade of growth for DM – the 1980’s. And I was also lucky enough to spend some one-on-one time with my boss David Ogilvy on a few occasions, in a few different countries.


He was passionate about Direct Marketing – it was his first love and his secret weapon. He regards DM as the reason his advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather was such a success. In his final few years running the Ogilvy agency, based in Paris, he left the advertising agency and worked from the DM agency office. He was frustrated with the wasted focus on creativity and lack of accountability in the advertising agency.

In those days the DM people lived in a different world to the advertising agency troops. We were far more involved with our client’s business, not just their advertising. We had our hands in their databases, sales lead management, offer development, call centres, marketing collateral, customer surveys, competitions and more.

As a result we were often asked to do their brand advertising and sales promotions, as well as their DM. Mind you we regarded every message as a brand message. Most of us had already worked in brand advertising, but preferred the tougher challenge of DM.

And we believed passionately about our cause. Yet we were often misunderstood by our advertising agency partners, so to help them get to know what drove us, we’d show them this video from David Ogilvy. Rather than get them enthused about DM, it just made them dislike us even more. With hindsight I see why:)

Interestingly his words still resonate today – his wave of the future had a long tail, so to speak. The internet is a pure DM channel and the skills now in demand today are those of direct marketers. Who would have thought databases and data scientists would be sexy?

Early 1980’s O & M Direct UK house ad – the wave of the future…

The video is only 7 minutes long but worth all 420 seconds. Get yourself a java and watch it here. Share it with anyone you know who works in digital marketing. If only more young marketers did what David did and invested in their own education at a young age, the internet would be way more successful as a marketing channel.

David’s prediction about the future of advertising also came true. The industry is now littered with traditional brand advertising agency personnel looking for work. Their skill set is in decline in the digital world and they are struggling to remain in the industry. Ironically if they had listened to their DM partners they would have had more opportunities.

A quote from 50 years ago that still rings true today…

I read DO’s books every couple of years. I always learn something, or am reminded of the advertising fundamentals so many of us ignore, as we pursue the latest bright new shiny object.

I’m off to read “The Unpublished David Ogilvy” again – always a laugh, not to mention a good education, particularly about corporate culture.

And in case you’re wondering, Ogilvy & Mather Direct was rebranded to OgilvyOne. I’ll let you judge whether you think DO would have approved…


  1. Mal, I have not seen the David Ogilvy video before and I am close to tears! What a pity that such a visionary departed this earth before the digital era really kicked in.

    When was the video recorded?

    As you would expect, I didn’t learn anything new, but that video will now take a prominent part in my future lectures on CRM.

    Opportunity to apply our disciplines increasingly abound. I was talking yesterday to the “data scientist” of a major telco and the stuff they are doing in their retail stores is truly exciting. Makes me almost consider getting back into the corporate world…!

    • It was recorded around 1987/8 I think Drayton asked David to do a video for a Creative director’s meeting. It’s one of the reasons I was so passionate about DM having moved from being a marketer doing DM to the agency world – having the world’s leading advertising mind lead the charge just made me more determined.

      • By 1987 I was just starting to see the light – which has driven my thinking ever since. Wish I could have met David!

    • Yes it is and sadly nobody comes close today to inciting passion in an industry like he did, just a shame he’s not around now to enjoy the digital world.

  2. That’s made my day Malcolm.

    I was lucky enough to work as a copywriter at O&M Direct in London in the mid-80s. My creative director and mentor was Drayton Bird who was a big friend of David’s. We all knew that the big mainstream agency boys looked down on us grubby junk mail merchants.

    But now the tables have turned and the digi gurus look down on them. The biggest irony of course, and as you point out in your blog, is that our proven DM skills and expertise are now more valuable than ever – and seemingly rare.. Because as Drayton once pointed out, the internet is exactly the same as DM, but much faster.

    I’m sure David Ogilvy would have loved the internet and would have seen it as the perfect way to combine instant direct response with powerful brand building.

  3. David Ogilvy? Who’s he?*!? Looks like some old, out-of-touch geezer. He’s even wearing braces (suspenders for our American friends)!! What could he possibly know about business today?!? But seriously…

    Great post Malcolm and still a remarkable interview with the great man. Amazing clarity of mind. Thanks for the mention of “Unpublished”. I have ordered a copy.

    Not so sure about the triumph of DM that you seem to allude to. For sure, the internet is perfect for DM and yet the current trend seems to be increasing hostility from the likes of Google to classic direct marketing. I’d suggest DM remains the “ugly step-child” of the ad world.

    Digressing slightly, I would be fascinated to see what is being taught about marketing at business schools these days. As you say, there ought to be large emphasis on databases and analysis, tied in with direct response marketing. After all, this would be “Scientific Advertising”! However, I suspect that is not the case.

    Thanks again. You’re “on fire ” with your posts this week!

    Kevin Francis

    • “there ought to be large emphasis on databases and analysis, tied in with direct response marketing. After all, this would be “Scientific Advertising”! However, I suspect that is not the case.” Sadly, you are correct Kevin. The lecturers don’t understand our disciplines and only pay lip service to it.

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