Should Advertising Be Abolished?
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The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 7 Nov 1963, p. 81-90
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Ogilvy, David, Speaker
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Text
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Speeches
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Attitudes and philosophies towards advertising, as espoused by various people including Toynbee, Galbraith, President Roosevelt, Sir Winston Churchill, Alfred Marshall, Maynard Keynes. The speaker's own view that the kind of informative factual advertising which the economists endorse is more effective in terms of sales results, than the combative or persuasive advertising which they condemn. Some effects of non-factual advertising. Responses to several questions: Does advertising raise prices?; Does advertising encourage monopoly?; Does advertising corrupt editors?; Should advertising be used in politics?; Can advertising foist an inferior product on the consumer?; Is advertising a pack of lies?; Does advertising make people want to buy products they don't need?; Is advertising a vulgar bore?. Some of the speaker's personal experiences with what does and does not offend. Some concluding remarks about advertising as "a benign and useful force in the body economic."
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7 Nov 1963
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English
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The speeches are free of charge but please note that the Empire Club of Canada retains copyright. Neither the speeches themselves nor any part of their content may be used for any purpose other than personal interest or research without the explicit permission of the Empire Club of Canada.
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Full Text
NOVEMBER 7,1963
Should Advertising Be Abolished?
AN ADDRESS BY Mr. David Ogilvy
CHAIRMAN OF THE BOARD OGILVY, BENSON, & MATHER
CHAIRMAN, The President, Mr. Arthur J. Langley

MR. LANGLEY:

The jacket of our guest's new book quotes other observers to this effect: "Fifteen years ago, David Ogilvy hit Madison Avenue like a regiment of Royal Hussars and ever since, he has beaten the Americans at their own favourite and frantic profession."

Now, what sort of background and experience would you expect to have to enable you to achieve this particular brand of success? Well-you must have been born in England-about 52 years ago.

-then-training as a Parisian chef must be offset by being a salesman in Scotland.

-then-become second-in-command to Dr. George Gallup -of Gallup Poll fame-where you learn to tell all cleverly-but balance it quickly, with wartime service in British Security-where you learn to cleverly tell nothing.

-then-toss in a dash of diplomatic corps service in Britain's Washington Embassy-but before that influence is too deeply rooted-become a Pennsylvania farmer.

-then-rush in where angels fear to tread, and invade one of the toughest fields in the world-Advertising! -finally-stick to your guns and do not let your eyes waver from your goal-the top-not of the quantity heap -but of the quality ladder!

Do all this-and you are the Chairman of the Board of Ogilvy Benson & Mather-our guest-whom we welcome most warmly, David Ogilvy.

MR. OGILVY:

I remember coming to Toronto for the first time in 1943, on my way to a British Intelligence training camp.

That was a top secret place. We spent most of our time learning how to kill people with our bare hands, firing revolvers, and detonating plastic explosives. We explained all these explosions to the local police by pretending that we were experts in bomb demolition, which we really knew nothing about.

One day the police telephoned to say that an air force plane had dropped a bomb in a field nearby. The bomb had failed to explode, so would one of our experts drive over and de-louse it? One of our chaps, who had never seen that kind of bomb in his life, volunteered. Thus was our coverstory preserved. A very brave man, I always thought.

Not long ago my socialist sister Lady Hendy invited me to agree with her that advertising should be abolished. I found it difficult to deal with this menacing suggestion, because I am neither an economist nor a philosopher. But at least I was able to point out that opinion is divided on the question. Arnold Toynbee "cannot think of any circumstances in which advertising would not be an evil." Professor Galbraith of Harvard holds that advertising tempts people to squander money on "unneeded" possessions when they ought to be spending it on public works.

But it would be a mistake to assume that every liberal shares the Toynbee-Galbraith view of advertising. President Roosevelt saw it in a different light:

If I were starting life over again, I am inclined to think that I would go into the advertising business in preference to almost any other ... The general raising of the standards of modern civilization among all groups of people during the past half century would have been impossible without the spreading of the knowledge of higher standards by means of advertising.

Sir Winston Churchill agrees with Mr. Roosevelt: Advertising nourishes the consuming power of men. It sets up before a man the goal of a better home, better clothing, better food for himself and his family. It spurs individual exertion and greater production.

Almost all serious economists, of whatever political colour, agree that advertising serves a useful purpose, when it is used to give information about new products.

The Victorian economist Alfred Marshall approved of "informative" advertising for new products, but condemned what he called 'combative" advertising as a waste. There was a streak of prissiness in Marshall; his most illustrious student, Maynard Keynes, once described his as "an utterly absurd person." Be that as it may, what Marshall wrote about advertising has been cribbed by many later economists, and it has become orthodox economic doctrine to hold that "combative"-or "persuasive"- advertising is economic waste. Is it?

My own clinical experience would suggest that the kind of informative factual advertising which the economists endorse is more effective, in terms of sales results, than the "combative" or "persuasive" advertising which they con- demn. Commercial self-interest and academic virtue march together. If all advertisers would give up flatulent puffery, and turn to the kind of factual, informative advertising which we have provided for Rolls-Royce, for Shell Gasoline and for London Life here in Canada, they would not only increase their sales, but they would also place themselves on the side of the angels. The more informative your advertising, the more persuasive it will be.

In a recent poll Americans thought-leaders were asked, "Should advertisers give the facts and only the facts?" The vote in favour of this austere proposition was strikingly affirmative. Factual advertising is very widely regarded as a Good Thing. But when it comes to so called "persuasive" advertising for one old brand against another, the majority of economists follow Marshall in condemning it. Rexford Tugwell, who earned my undying admiration for inspiring the economic renaissance of Puerto Rico, condemns the "enormous waste involved in the effort to turn trade from one firm to another." The same dogma comes from Stuart Chase, Pipou, Braithwaite, Baster, Colston Warne, Fairchild, Morgan and Boulding. They all say essentially the same thing, many of them in almost the same words. Read one of them, and you have read them all.

I will let these professors in on a curious secret. The combative-persuasive kind Of advertising which they condemn is not nearly so profitable as the informative kind of advertising which they approve. My experience has been that it is relatively easy for advertising to persuade consumers to try a new product. But they grow maddeningly deaf to the advertising of products which have been around for a long time. Thus we copywriters get more mileage out of advertising new products than old ones. Once again, academic virtue and commercial self-interest march together.

Does advertising raise prices? There has been too much sloppy argument on both sides of this intricate question. Few serious studies have been made of the effect of advertising on prices. However, Professor Neil Borden of Harvard examined hundreds Of case histories. He reached conclusions which should be more widely studied by other professors before they pop off on the economics of advertising. For example, "In many industries the large scale of operations made possible through advertising has resulted in reductions in manufacturing costs." Professor Borden believes that advertising, "though certainly not free from criticism, is an economic asset and not a liability." Thus he agrees with Churchill and Roosevelt. However, he does not support all the shibboleths of poor old Madison Avenue. He found, for example, that advertising does not give consumers sufficient information. My experience at the working level leads me to agree.

It is worth listening to what the men who pay out huge sums of their stockholders' money for advertising say about its effect on prices. Here is Howard Morgens, the head of Procter & Gamble:

Time and again in our company, we have seen the start of advertising on a new type of product result in savings that are considerably greater than the entire advertising cost ... The use of advertising clearly results in lower prices to the public.

In most industries the cost of advertising represents less than 3 per cent of the price consumers pay at retail. But if advertising were abolished, you would lose on the swings much of what you saved on the roundabouts. For example, you would have to pay about $4 for the Toronto Star if it carried no advertising. And just think how dull it would be. Jefferson used to say that he read only one newspaper, "and that more for its advertisements than its news." Most housewives would say the same.

Does advertising encourage monopoly? Many economists think that it does, and I am bound to confess that I think so too. It is becoming progressively more difficult for small companies to launch new brands. The entrance fee, in terms of advertising, is now so large that only the entrenched giants, with their vast war chests, can afford it. If you don't believe me, try launching a new detergent in the United States with a war chest of less than $10,000,000. However, I am all in favour of monopolies. I spend my life trying to make all my clients monopolies.

Does advertising corrupt editors? Yes, it does. The publisher of an American magazine once complained to me, in righteous indignation, that he had given One of my clients five pages of editorial and had received in return only two pages of advertising.

I have often been tempted to punish editors who insult my clients, but I have never succumbed to the temptation. When one of our advertisements for the British Industries Fair appeared in an issue of the Chicago Tribune which printed one of Colonel McCormick's ugly diatribes against Britain, I itched to pull the campaign out of his paper. But to do so would have blown a gaping hole in our coverage of the Middle West, and might well have triggered a brouhaha about advertising pressure on editors.

Should advertising be used in politics? In recent years it has become fashionable for political parties to employ advertising agencies-here in Canada, in the United States, and even in England.

I regard this use of advertising to sell statesmen as the ultimate vulgarity. In 1952 Rosser Reeves advertised General Eisenhower as if he were a tube of toothpaste. He created fifty commercials in which the General was made to read out hand-lettered answers to a series of phony questions from imaginary citizens. Here in Canada we witness the undignified firing of advertising agencies by Government Departments every time the party in office changes. But let the agencies accept their share of the blame: if you achieve success through patronage, be ready for ignominious dismissal when your patron loses an election. My agency in Canada will remain politically independent, because my colleagues, as individuals, must be free to do their political duty according to their persuasion. And we shall stand aloof from all Government business so long as it is linked to patronage-no matter what it may cost us.

Can advertising foist an inferior product on the consumer? Bitter experience has taught me that it cannot. On those rare occasions when I have advertised products which were inferior to other products in the same field, the results have been disastrous. If I try hard enough, I can write an advertisement which will persuade consumers to buy an inferior product, but only once-and most of my clients depend on repeat purchases for their profit.

The President of Procter & Gamble believes that advertising can actually accelerate the demise of an inferior product. He says, "The quickest way to kill a brand that is off in quality is to promote it aggressively. People find out about its poor quality just that much more quickly."

Is advertising a pack of lies? It used to be, but no longer. Fear of becoming embroiled with the Federal Trade Commission, which tries its cases in the newspapers, is now so great that one of our clients recently warned me that if any of our commercials were ever cited by the FTC for dishonesty, he would immediately move his account to another agency. The lawyer at General Foods actually required that our copywriters prove that Open-Pit Barbecue Sauce has an "old-fashioned flavour" before he would allow us to make this innocuous claim in advertisements. The consumer is better protected than she knows, not only by Washington, but also by Ottawa. I cannot always keep pace with the changing rules laid down by the various bodies that regulate advertising. The Canadian Government, for example, applies one set of rules to patent medicine advertising, and the United States Government a totally different set.

Some American States prohibit the mention of prices in whiskey advertisements, while others insist upon it; what is forbidden in one state is obligatory in another. It can only take refuge in the rule which has always governed my output: "Never write an advertisement which you wouldn't want your own family to see."

Does advertising make people want to buy products they don't need? If you don't think people need deodorants, you are at liberty to criticize advertising for having persuaded 87 per cent of American women and 66 per cent of American men to use them. If you don't think people need beer, you are right to criticize advertising for having persuaded 58 per cent of the adult population to drink it. If you disapprove of social mobility, creature comforts, and foreign travel, you are right to blame advertising for encouraging such wickedness. If you dislike affluent society, you are right to blame advertising for inciting the masses to pursue it. If you are this kind of Puritan, I cannot reason with you; I can only call you a psychic masochist. Like my fellow Scotsman Archbishop Leighton in the 17th century, I pray, "Deliver me, O Lord, from the errors of wise men, yea, and of good men.

Dear old John Burns, the father of the Labour movement in England, used to say that the tragedy of the working class was the poverty of their desires. I make no apology for inciting the working class to desire less Spartan lives.

Is advertising a vulgar bore? C. A. R. Crosland thunders in the New Statesman that advertising "is often vulgar, strident and offensive. And it induces a definite cynicism and corruption in both practitioners and audience owing to the constant intermingling of truth and lies." This, I think, is now the gravamen of the charge against advertising among educated people. Professor Ludwig von Mises describes advertising as "shrill, noisy, coarse, puffing".

He blames the public, as not reacting to dignified advertising. I am more inclined to blame the advertisers and the agencies-including myself. I must confess that I am a poor judge of what will shock the public. Twice I have produced advertisements which seemed perfectly innocent to me, only to be excoriated for indecency. One was an advertisement for Hathaway Ladies Shirts, which showed a beautiful woman in velvet trousers, sitting astride a chair and smoking a long cigar. My other transgression was a television commercial in which we rolled Ban deodorant into the armpit of a Greek statue. In both cases the symbolism escaped me, but, by George, it escaped nobody else.

I am less offended by obscenity than by tasteless typography, banal photographs, shrill copy, and cheap jingles. If you went into a store to buy a frying-pan and the salesman started singing at you in rhyming couplets, you'd run. It is easy to skip these horrors when they appear in magazines and newspapers, but it is impossible to escape them on billboards and on television. I have a passion for landscape, and I have never seen one which was improved by a billboard. Where every prospect pleases, man is at his vilest when he erects a billboard. When I retire from Madison Avenue, I am going to start a secret society of masked vigilantes. We will travel about the world on silent motor cycles, chopping down billboards at the dark of the moon. Will any jury convict us when we are caught in these acts of beneficent citizenship? It is television advertising which has made Madison Avenue the arch-symbol of tasteless materialism. If governments do not soon set up machinery for the stricter regula tion of television-both commercials and programmes-I fear that the majority of thoughtful men will soon come to agree with Arnold Toynbee that "the destiny of our Western civilization turns on the issue of our struggle with all that Madison Avenue stands for." I have a vested interest in the survival of Madison Avenue.

The vast majority of thought-leaders now believe that advertising promotes values that are too materialistic. The danger to my bread-and-butter arises from this: what thought-leaders think today, the majority of voters are likely to think tomorrow.

On the whole however, it is my belief that advertising is a benign and useful force in the body economic. Indeed, if I did not think this, I would find some other way to earn my living .

Thanks

Thanks of this meeting were expressed by Past President Major James Baxter.

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Should Advertising Be Abolished?


Attitudes and philosophies towards advertising, as espoused by various people including Toynbee, Galbraith, President Roosevelt, Sir Winston Churchill, Alfred Marshall, Maynard Keynes. The speaker's own view that the kind of informative factual advertising which the economists endorse is more effective in terms of sales results, than the combative or persuasive advertising which they condemn. Some effects of non-factual advertising. Responses to several questions: Does advertising raise prices?; Does advertising encourage monopoly?; Does advertising corrupt editors?; Should advertising be used in politics?; Can advertising foist an inferior product on the consumer?; Is advertising a pack of lies?; Does advertising make people want to buy products they don't need?; Is advertising a vulgar bore?. Some of the speaker's personal experiences with what does and does not offend. Some concluding remarks about advertising as "a benign and useful force in the body economic."