Love Letter as Obituary: How To Praise Like Legendary Ad Man David Ogilvy
By Maria Popova
Few are the legends of communication arts whose legacy tells us something not merely about how to sell well but how to live well, whose minds reveal something deeper about the inner workings of the self rather than the mere machinery that fueled “the century of the self,” who teach us something not only about the tricks of the commercial trade but also about what makes the human heart tick. Among those exceptional few is advertising icon and original “Mad Man” David Ogilvy (June 23, 1911–July 21, 1999). From the out-of-print 1986 gem The Unpublished David Ogilvy (public library) — the same compendium of his lectures, memos, and lists that gave us his 10 timeless tips on writing — comes this memo sent to a veteran copywriter on April 2, 1971, which bespeaks with equal measure Ogilvy’s unapologetic standards, his wry wit, and his self-conscious but unrelenting humanity:
Harry just read me the letter you wrote me yesterday, on your anniversary.
Shyness makes it impossible for me to tell any man what I think of him when he is still alive. However, if I outlive you, I shall write an obituary along these lines:
––––––––– was probably the nicest man I have ever known. His kindness to me, and to dozens of other people, was nothing short of angelic.
Many nice men are too dumb to be anything else. But ––––––––– was far from dumb. Indeed, he had a superb intelligence.
His judgment of men and events was infallible; I came to rely on it more and more as the years went by.
He was one of my few partners who worked harder and longer hours than I did. He gave value for money. And he knew his trade.
He was an honest man, in the largest sense of the word. He had a glorious sense of humor.
He had the courage to challenge me when he thought I was wrong, but he always contrived to do it without annoying me.
There was nothing saccharine about him. Tolerant as he was, he did no like everybody; he disliked the people who deserved to be disliked.
He never pursued popularity, but he inspired universal affection.
The Unpublished David Ogilvy is fantastic in its entirety, a treasure trove of wisdom on business, creative culture, and the human condition.
Photograph via Ogilvy One
Published May 24, 2013