by Patricia Sellers

David Ogilvy, arguably the most influential advertising man in history, died 10 years ago today.

Courtesy: Ogilvy & Mather

Measured by his creativity, Ogilvy was most famous for the man in the Hathaway shirt, his pitch for Rolls Royce (“At 60 mph, the loudest noise in this Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock”), and his clever insight to market Dove soap as 1/4 cleansing cream.

But beyond the ads, this elegant and eclectic Brit pioneered consumer research, direct marketing–and built an industry-leading juggernaut, Ogilvy & Mather. Now owned by WPP Group , Ogilvy is the longtime brand steward for Fortune 500 companies such as Ford , IBM and American Express .

I had the privilege of getting to know David Ogilvy in the ’80s and ’90s, when I was growing up at Fortune and writing about big-brand consumer-goods companies. We were at the Fortune 500 Forum in Charleston, S.C. in 1991 when I asked Ogilvy, then a vigorous 80-year-old, to share his advice for building and running a business.

Why I asked him, I can’t recall–maybe because he loved sharing his principles of management. In any case, I’m glad I did. I’ve kept his pencil-scrawled note in my desk drawer ever since. What better day than today to share it with you. So, here is David Ogilvy’s best business advice:

1. Remember that Abraham Lincoln spoke of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. He left out the pursuit of profit.

2. Remember the old Scottish motto: “Be happy while you’re living, for you are a long time dead.”

3. If you have to reduce your company’s payroll, don’t fire your people until you have cut your compensation and the compensation of your big-shots.

4. Define your corporate culture and your principles of management in writing. Don’t delegate this to a committee. Search all the parks in all your cities. You’ll find no statues of committees.

5. Stop cutting the quality of your products in search of bigger margins. The consumer always notices — and punishes you.

6. Never spend money on advertising which does not sell.

7. Bear in mind that the consumer is not a moron. She is your wife. Do not insult her intelligence.

David Ogilvy


November 15, 1991