Deconstructing ‘Why David Ogilvy must die’ – a lesson for fake marketers

Content Brewery founder Malcolm Auld doesn't agree with those digital marketers who like to proclaim the death of David Ogilvy's 'selling is everything' methodology. Here, he deconstructs an article which does exactly that.

An appalling piece of digital drivel appeared in The Drum last week: “Why ‘David Ogilvy’ must die”. It is typical of the fake news constantly conjured by the fake marketers, those who call themselves digital marketers.

The horrible truth is that the digital marketing clerks have been manufacturing fake news since the internet was invented. They have claimed outrageously that everything has changed; there are new rules of marketing and PR; new business blueprints; and everything that has always worked in marketing, no longer does – even though it still does.

These pixel pushers provide no evidence to support their arguments, apart from platitudes about the number of people using some new social platforms. Sales and revenue are words banned from their lexicon.

In a desperate bid to try to differentiate themselves, because the majority are not experienced marketers (and deep down they know that nothing has changed, apart from technology), they have bullshitted their way into the psych of the marketing industry.

But as I wrote recently, the digital chooks are coming home to roost. Or read anything from Bob HoffmanMark Ritson or Drayton Bird to get a common sense perspective of the digital marketing truth.

The Drum article is typical of the posturing by marketers trying to differentiate themselves in a sea of sameness. So I thought I’d deconstruct some of the article’s key points, as it’s a great demonstration of the bollocks passing for digital marketing intelligence. My notes in blue.

Ogilvy had one goal above all others: Sell, sell, and sell some more, his principles widely adopted across the advertising world. It’s time for brands to disconnect from the old ways and learn how to connect with people through a set of clearly communicated core beliefs and values.

People do not want to be connected with their toilet paper brand through a set of clearly communicated core beliefs and values. Well, maybe this is an exception:

We live in what I call, The Belief Economy, driven mainly by millennials and iGen, which demands that brands have a defined, authentic belief system and act accordingly.

The economy is not driven by millennials and iGen – they have bugger all disposable income. The single largest group influencing the economy in the western world is still those known as baby boomers. No labelled segment gives a toss about a brand’s defined, authentic belief system. They wouldn’t even pass a test if asked to explain it.

More than 90% of all sales never involve the internet, they happen in store with almost no consideration whatsoever. They are mainly packaged goods and fresh food. Here’s a typical customer thought process when shopping in store or online: “I need toilet paper. Do they have my favourite brand (created via TV ads selling the brand) or is another brand on sale? Oh I’ll grab that packet.”

The term “consumer” dehumanizes people, reducing them to faceless entities that represent nothing more than dollar signs. But today’s tools allow brands to motivate and inspire and provide an opportunity for co-creation which creates something more valuable than selling, buy-in.

Collaboration over consumption? Does anyone know what this means? Do customers call Unilever to discuss the scent additives of the soap powder they plan to buy? Ever gone shopping with kids? There’s no collaboration there. I don’t know of any tools that motivate and inspire or provide opportunity for blah, blah… buy-in.

Though come to think of it, since they were invented, ice cream parlours have let customers collaborate by choosing their own flavours. My local barista lets me tell him how I want my coffee. Even the sandwich shop lets me nominate my fillings. But this is a decades-old process. Nothing new to see here folks when it comes to collaboration or consumption.

I’d like to collaborate for vanilla, thanks

Ogilvy famously said: “The customer is not a moron, she’s your wife.” He was trying to instil a sense of the person in the ad industry at a time when wives and moms were the gatekeepers of products that entered the household. Wives are no longer the gatekeepers. Now, everyone shops for everything all the time.

Families come in all shapes and sizes, and the same-sex revolution is changing everything up and down society. The very idea of shopping has changed. It can be done online in between completing reports at work. Or people shop in-store with online mobile comparison help — a medium that did not exist robustly even ten years ago.

Yes, Ogilvy wrote for the times. He was spot-on when he wrote it. Though he did say he would have written that phrase differently had he written the book later in his career.

Brands without a communicated set of values will be left behind as the economic buying power of Millennials and iGen continues to grow over the next 40 years. A brand’s values and impact are even more critical to iGen, and research strongly indicates both generations’ purchasing decisions are influenced by knowing what a brand stands for.

Only fake marketers think customers care about brands as much as fake marketers do. Every generation has bought brands based on what the brand stood for in terms of its positioning. It’s not something new.

Centuries before the digital revolution, Confucius said “Men’s natures are alike, it is their habits that carry them far apart.” The observation is still relevant. Technology changes, people don’t. Read The Marketer Stripped Bare, by John Hancock.

The old rules aren’t right or wrong, but some of them are growing outdated, and advertising needs to evolve alongside Millennials and iGen.

The “old rules” (read truth) apply today more than ever, as the skills of communication have been desperately lost in the age of digital marketing. The OECD Adult Literacy Study revealed roughly 82% of people struggle to comprehend basic English, so we need persuasive writing skills like never before.

After all, your marketing activity, particularly direct marketing, now known as digital marketing, is trying to get your customers to do what you want them to do, when you want them to do it. And that’s not easy. It also has no relation to technology.

“David Ogilvy” must die because the world David Ogilvy inhabited no longer exists sociologically or physically.

Never before have we needed to study the past if we want to succeed going forward. As Spanish philosopher George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”

And if the fake marketers continue on their dishonest path, they will continue to fail the industry and themselves. BTW, here’s an article I wrote in 2015 explaining why we still need David Ogilvy’s thinking in the digital world.

Malcolm Auld is founder of The Content Brewery. The original version of this article first appeared on his blog.


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