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Letter from David Ogilvy to a Copywriter

Updated on June 7, 2014

David Ogilvy

David Ogilvy's letter to me was a dream come true
David Ogilvy's letter to me was a dream come true | Source

David Ogilvy on Creativity

When I was a copywriter in Ogilvy & Mather Direct, Bangalore, I was always on a cloud. I had realised my dream of writing for one of the greatest ad agencies in the world. An agency created by the legendary David Ogilvy. I was fortunate to be allowed to create Ogilvy & Mather Direct's first newsletter - "Oh Dee aar!' and we had printed an issue that featured anecdotes about David who was to visit us soon. His illness did not allow him to travel, so we sent the newsletter to him.

When he wrote to me, I was amazed and delighted. David focused primarily on my editorial about creativity.

Chateau De Touffou


Dear Anita,

What does Oh dee aar mean in English? "Oh Dear" pronounced by an Englishman with a hot potato accent?

You write, `Didn't David Ogilvy say Creative people have more contact than most people do with the unconscious...'? No he didn't. Or if he did, he has forgotten it. Where did you find it?
Bless you for your Indian edition of The Unpublished David Ogilvy.

I was terribly disappointed when I got to South Africa and could not visit India. I am not sure whether my passion is for India, or for the inhabitants of the Ogilvy & Mather offices in India, or for the lady inhabitants of those offices. I love beauty more than anything else. (Is that a disease?)

It was kind of Mr. Bhogilal to send a Rolls Royce to meet me at the station. Don't tell him that I almost refused to get into it. I had never seen Indian poverty before and t struck me as obscene to ride through the streets in a Rolls. People who live in India, i.e. Indians, seem to get used to the sight of poverty - and to be blind to it.

I am proud -deeply proud of our offices in India. They work hard, they are consumed with professional ambition, and they are brimming over with charm. So miraculously free of resentment towards the Brits who occupied their land until 1947. Recently I came across a letter written by my brother in Calcutta in 1931. He refers to Gandhi as a saint.

I enclose a page from my `Confessions of an Advertising Man'. Read the quotation from Aldous Huxley. It sums up my attitude to advertising.

Aldous Huxley,who once tried his hand at writing advertisements, concluded that `any trace of literariness in an advertisement is fatal to its success. Advertisement writers may not be lyrical, or obscure or in any way esoteric. They must be universally intelligible. A good advertisement has this in common with drama and oratory, that it must be immediately comprehensible and directly moving.

Charles Lamb and Byron also wrote advertisements. So did Bernard Shaw, Hemingway, Marquand, Sherwood Anderson and Faulkner - none of them with any degree of success.
I don't know what Creativity means. It isn't in the big Oxford English Dictionary. It is a pretentious buzz word used by half-baked agency people who think that they are paid to show off their originality, but not to sell. I have never met an artist or a poet who uses the word in reference to his work.

Love to Sridhar and all the rest of you.
David O

And I replied:


Dear Mr. Ogilvy,

It's such an honour to hear from you. My heart missed many beats! Oh Dee aar! derives from Oh & M and D.R. for Direct. It's a bit complicated. Our direct arrows hit the mark. I guess if one narrowly misses piercing an Englishman's skull, he's bound to say, "Oh Dear!"

The quotation -`Creative people have more contact...'is on page 18 of your CONFESSIONS. You have quoted Frank Barron here, and you say that his conclusions fit your own observations about creative people. My fault - you did not yourself say it.

To me creativity is a matter of synthesising ideas and creating something original as a result. Like your Hathaway Shirt ad where the model wore an eyepatch.

Of course, poets and artists don't need to refer to their work as `creative'. It so obviously is . But when asked to comment on the creative process, authors do talk a lot (as in the well-known series of interviews - `The Paris Reviews'). I believe that lyricism in advertising should be relevant whenever present. Poetry can be direct and moving, easy to read. I could advertise a fragrance lyrically, for instance, or a lovely countryside resort. In Direct Marketing terms it is possible to write lyrically because, happily, one knows the reader likes poetry and will not shun it when confronted by it.

You are so right about our dedication. That is a quality that impressed me in O&M Direct, as nowhere else (I've been in advertising for almost 12 years now). I am so in love with the medium of Direct Marketing, I'll never return to `General'. If I do, it'll be to devote my time to writing fiction. My work has been getting pretty good results. The British Airways Trade Promotion mailing scored a 45% response rate.

We Indians do take poverty for granted. For you it must have come as quite a shock. As for beauty, I feel physical beauty is important in human beings, as in nature. It is the artist within us that longs for it and can see it. In fact, one of my stories has narcissism as its theme. Edward Sandford Martin in his essay -`Writing', says,"...the love of truth, and the love of beauty, and the love of nature and of mankind are all inspirations of endless effectiveness".

However, I try my best to resist gorgeous men with lousy personalities. Speaking of Beauty, your Chateau is so romantic to look at. Does it have trap doors and secret passages? They fascinate me.

Yours sincerely

Anita Saran

NOTE: I didn't agree with David Ogilvy where his views on creativity were concerned. The following year I won an award signed by him for excellence in direct mail writing and soon after, a science fiction novella I wrote for a national competition won an award. So, creative people CAN be good copywriters contrary to Ogilvy's beliefs.

The View from Touffou

David Ogilvy on You Tube - We Sell or Else

Ogilvy On Advertising


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    • Anita Saran profile image

      Anita Saran 4 years ago from Bangalore, India

      Thank you for reading. Small world, isn't it? I spent years (11 I think) at O&M - the best years of my advertising life.

    • CrisSp profile image

      CrisSp 4 years ago from Sky Is The Limit Adventure

      I have to read this with my hubby not only because it is indeed interesting but also due to the fact that my hubby is with Ogilvy (Senior Graphic Artist/Designer) for more than a decade now. So, ironic!

      That letter from DO is surely a treasure to keep.

      Pleasure reading this hub and lovin' your creativity!