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David Ogilvy and the Publishing World

June 14, 2011


Ogilvy Rolls Royce Advertisement

Ogilvy's famous Rolls-Royce advertisement. Can publishers start to recapture their brands?

I came across this interesting blog post today from Brand Strategy Insider celebrating the centenary of the birth of David Ogilvy, inventor of, among other things, the eye-patch-wearing man with Hathaway Shirt. It caused me to think that despite all his great work, Ogilvy’s impact on the publishing industry has been relatively slight.

If you think about the personality he imbued in the brands he represented, and when you reflect that most people enter publishing because it appears to be “creative”, it’s a shock to think that brand, personality and substance have little part to play in today’s publishing strategy.

I recall years ago being vetoed for creating a “Mr Smith is a Happy Man” campaign for a multi-volume legal encyclopaedia. I wanted to use this headline with a picture of a smiling solicitor in front of the volumes followed by a sub-head which read “because he knows that whatever problem comes through his door, he can deal with it”.

Apparently the idea was too controversial. It was sexist (notwithstanding that I intended to roll out the campaign with either Mr or Mrs Smith solicitors). It was just “not on”. And, you know, some things don’t change: getting publishers to think “brand” is a hard task. Getting a publisher to think like a customer is dashed hard work.

But look at the problems publishers face today: brand dominated by e-book devices, tablets and authors. Pricing and positioning dominated by online retailers and the gradually declining book trade. Not forgetting the difficulties of recruiting talent to an industry widely perceived to be on the wane. Brand is crucial to survival.

As we have said before in these pages, brand is more essential than ever if publishers are to remain relevant in a changing world. Social media, the home of the trust agent, is where brand “is at” today. Smaller publishers who enjoy punching above their weight know how to maximise this trend for the better. Yet others flap around on the sand like fish in a dried-up waterhole.

Brand after all is not only about relevance to consumers but relevance also to talent. If no-one buys your books because they have no perceived value, how can you expect people to want to work for you either?

Brand pride – demonstrable quality and delivery – is vital to success. As Ogilvy wrote in another of his classic straplines, “at 60 miles an hour, the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock”. He knew well how touch the pulse of the viewer, to create credibility by demonstrable fact.

What can publishers do to deliver such credibility from their own brands? And why will people believe it?

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