King of Madison Avenue: David Ogilvy and the Making of Modern Advertising

King of Madison Avenue: David Ogilvy and the Making of Modern Advertising

by Kenneth Roman


View All Available Formats & Editions

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781403978950
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 01/06/2009
Pages: 304
Product dimensions: 6.40(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Kenneth Roman worked directly with David Ogilvy at Ogilvy & Mather for 26 years, beginning as an account executive and rising up to eventually become Chairman and CEO. He is the co-author of several books, including the bestselling business classics How to Advertise and Writing that Works, both of which are in their third editions. He lives in New York City.

Read an Excerpt

The King of Madison Avenue

David Ogilvy and the Making of Modern Advertising

By Kenneth Roman

Palgrave Macmillan

Copyright © 2009 Kenneth Roman
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-230-61834-3



Our chairman "is definitely descended via five different lines of descent from Charlemagne, King of the Franks and Emperor of the West," obligingly reported Flagbearer, the agency's employee newsletter, in the 1970s. A relative investigating the family's roots was said to have made the discovery. To help tighten the connection, the article was accompanied by side-by-side pictures of Charlemagne and Ogilvy, "to demonstrate the similarity in facial characteristics."

The fourth of five children, David Mackenzie Ogilvy was born in 1911 in West Horsley, a rural agricultural village between Guild-ford and Leatherhead, in Surrey, 30 miles southwest of London. His birth date, June 23, was, incredibly, the same as his father's and grandfather's. It was also the date of George V's coronation and the year that Ronald Reagan was born.

While the population of West Horsley had recently boomed, to 750, there were still more horse-drawn vehicles than motorcars, and the village smithy didn't shut down until 1920. The area has a history going back to the Romans, who were replaced in A.D. 410 by invading Saxon mercenaries, then by Danes and Normans. The word "Horsley" is Saxon for "a clearing for horse pasture." The town was bypassed by the Industrial Revolution, so the landscape remained unspoiled by factories or rows of houses.

The Ogilvy home, Wix Hill, was an old estate with a timber-framed manor house dating back to the fourteenth century. The family had moved there from East Horsley. The house was clad with bricks in the eighteenth century to make it look more up-to-date. The name "Wix" comes from "Wick," a corruption of the Latin vicus, meaning "an inhabited place where victuals could be obtained," important to anyone on a long journey in a sparsely populated countryside.

Ogilvy reminisced about the Surrey of his early youth: "a paradise of plover's eggs, cowslip wine, charcoal burners, gypsies in caravans, thatched haystacks and governess carts." Plus a witch called Dame Feathers. When his advertising agency created its "Come to Britain" campaign for the British Travel Authority, he personally selected the lush color photographs of the English countryside, picking those that reflected the England where he grew up. "I suppose I ought not to tell this around. I ought to pretend I based my selection on research." It was a world of well-off families with servants, much like that depicted in the movie Mary Poppins. With a chauffeur, nanny, undernurse, and two other servants, Ogilvy started off solidly upper middle to upper class.

Little genealogy is disclosed in his 1978 autobiography, Blood, Brains and Beer. The title came from his father's bizarre directive when David was six to drink a glass of raw blood every day (for strength) and eat calves' brains three times a week (to expand mental faculties), all to be washed down with bottles of beer. Some locals in West Horsley still remember the "eccentric" father at Wix Hill.

Reading that short autobiography is like having dinner with a charming raconteur. It is thin on family details. We never learn the names of Ogilvy's father or mother. He describes his father as warmhearted, affectionate, and a failure. His Scottish grandfather is portrayed as cold-hearted, formidable, and successful—and his hero. Ogilvy had three sisters and an elder brother but names only his sister Mary and his brother Francis. His youngest sister, Christina, was so furious with Ogilvy for the way he described their father in the book that she didn't speak to him for 15 years.

A sickly child, afflicted with asthma that dogged him to the end of his life, Ogilvy said his nurse was scornful of him "because I was a mollycoddle, a milksop, a nyaah-nyaah, a sort of sissy because my sister Mary could beat me at everything—at wrestling, at every imaginable game, at climbing trees even. And I grew up to think I was a boob. And I thought so well into middle age." This led him to psychoanalysis in his middle 40s and, with the help of the analyst, deciding he wasn't such a boob as he'd thought.

The memoir portrays a young boy stumbling "bone-idle" through schools, meeting interesting people who fascinate him, and making his way through a variety of jobs that prepare him inadvertently for success in advertising. It drops an assortment of famous names: George Bernard Shaw, Harpo Marx, Albert Einstein, Leonard Bernstein, Lady Astor, Henry Luce, Edward R. Murrow, Alexander Woollcott, George S. Kaufman, Ethel Barrymore, Robert Moses, David Selznick, Charles Laughton, Loretta Young, Alfred Hitchcock, Thornton Wilder, Samuel Goldwyn, Walt Disney, Aldous Huxley. They all somehow crossed Ogilvy's path, and he didn't mind letting you know.

As successful as Ogilvy's other books would be, he admitted this one was "a bust." He said he knew the reason. "When you write a book about advertising, you're competing with midgets. When you write an autobiography, you're competing with giants." He also acknowledged the title was repulsive, "and so was my egotism."

* * *

Ogilvy always described himself as a Scot, yet he was born and raised in England, and his mother was Irish. His father was a Scot. "That's all that counts," say the Scots. His Scots Irish parentage—"that eccentric Celtic mixture," as one English colleague put it—was a product of three families coming together, like a merger of industrial giants: the Ogilvys and Mackenzies in Scotland, and the Fairfields in Ireland. Ogilvy was firm on the subject: "I'm a Celt, not an Anglo-Saxon."

His ancestral claim was later laid out in a toast to the Scottish Council, as the youngest member of its U.S. Committee: "I had the misfortune to spend the first twelve years of my life in the South of England—which my Spartan Scottish father inflicted on me as a trial of character." He was proud of his Highland relatives in the north of Scotland and sent a teasing telegram to his friend George Lindsay, a director of his agency: "Well, your poor devil came from the low country."

He paraded his Scottish pride in a 1962 address to the Saint Andrew's Society in New York and was introduced as a graduate of Fettes College in Edinburgh. [Cheers and applause.] After noting the society's purpose—to raise money to take care of indigent Scots (he observed there were lots of them)—Ogilvy told jokes, dismantled Scottish stereotypes, and recounted the story of Ralph Waldo Emerson walking through the Scottish countryside with Thomas Carlyle. Seeing the poor soil, Emerson asked Carlyle, "What do you raise on land like this?" Carlyle replied, "We raise men." [Applause.] He talked about his agency's campaign exhorting American tourists to visit Britain—"I mean Scotland"—and quoted Benjamin Franklin: "The time I spent in Scotland was six weeks of the densest happiness I have ever met in any part of my life."

He wrote to one Richard Ogilvie, Sheriff of Cook County in Chicago, saying they were likely to be kinsmen, since the two spellings of the name did not firm up until about 1800, and telling him about another Scotsman, Alan Pinkerton, who uncovered an early plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln in Baltimore and was made head of the secret service. It was Pinkerton's successor who failed the president, said Ogilvy. "I have always believed that, if Lincoln had kept Pinkerton, he would have averted the tragedy that took place in Ford's Theatre." He also pointed out that this Scotsman was "the father of the F.B.I., the O.S.S., and the C.I.A."

* * *

The main seat of the Ogilvy clan is at Cortachy Castle, on the northeast coast of Scotland. The current head of the clan, David George Coke Patrick Ogilvy (the thirteenth Earl of Airlie), saw his namesake in New York walking down Madison Avenue in the 1960s and accosted him: "I must introduce myself. My name is David Ogilvy." Quick as a flash came the reply: "Nice to meet you. What is it like to be mistaken for me?"

He was named for his great-uncle David Ogilvy, who enlisted in the French army in the Franco-Prussian war and was killed in a skirmish. His great-great-grandfather, a merchant, was also named David Ogilvy. He had no known connection with another branch of the Ogilvys—the Earl of Airlie, Princess Alexandra, and others—says his friend Louis Auchincloss, "unless you go back to Adam and Eve. That really pissed him off. They were very famous."

If great-grandfather Thomas Ogilvy was not one of the royal Ogilvys, he was clearly well off, a "landed proprietor" and a man of status (a justice of the peace). He was born in Inverness, in the Highlands, and for a time was a merchant in Liverpool before moving to London. The Scottish General Registry lists six servants—a house servant, nurse, maid, wet nurse, cook, and housemaid. His 1796 will ran to 55 pages.

Ogilvy's admired grandfather Francis (Frank) Mackenzie Ogilvy, was a sheep farmer by trade but an adventurer at heart. Born in Scotland, he moved to London and, at 24, emigrated to South America, where he led a swashbuckling life, fighting in the Argentine war against Paraguay. He also managed an estancia for a group of Scottish investors. When the estancia failed, grandfather Ogilvy, out of work with a large family to support, tried prospecting for gold in New Zealand. When that failed, he returned to London, where he got a job as secretary in the English Bank of Rio de Janeiro. "Four years later," writes Ogilvy, "this uneducated sheep farmer became manager of Brown Shipley, where he trained the future governor of the Bank of England. He was able to send all seven of his children to private schools and universities" and "lived like a Forsyte." The banking experience led him to advise his grandson to study the firm of J.P. Morgan, pointing to the Morgan criteria for partners ("Gentlemen with brains") and clients ("Only first-class business and that in a first-class way"). Both later became part of the Ogilvy agency's credo.

His father, Francis John Longley Ogilvy, was born in Argentina on a sheep ranch but remained a British subject. A classical scholar who taught himself Gaelic and read Greek in the bathroom, he played the bagpipe for his son. David had to call him "sir" when with other people and would later say his father bequeathed him two things: a scatological sense of humor and a penchant for smoking a pipe.

An agnostic, Ogilvy's father brought his son up under the most stringent Victorian morality. "My dear boy. You do not have to be aChristian to behave like a gentleman." Young Ogilvy became a fervent atheist, and debated religion with a colleague, a former theologian, who saw Ogilvy as an intensely rational man who couldn't relate to the idea of a Being able to alter human destiny. Ogilvy confirmed his lack of belief. "The idea of eating the body and drinking the blood of Jesus struck me as repulsive. I could not believe in the Creation, the Virgin Birth, the Ascension, Heaven, Hell or the Holy Ghost."

Ogilvy's father had been averagely successful as a stockbroker. When David was just three, England declared war on Germany, markets collapsed, and his father lost everything. Five servants were let go, and the family had to leave Wix Hill and move in with his maternal grandmother in London for a period before moving to Guildford, where his parents bought Lewis Carroll's house. He said he knew Alice Liddell, the original Alice in Wonderland. Beatrix Potter, the pet-loving author of The Tale of Peter Rabbit, visited his next-door neighbor, bringing a tame hedgehog called Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle. Potter's famous gardener, Mr. McGregor, was thought to be based on the bad-tempered gardener at the local Woodcote Farm. "Her England is the England I remember," Ogilvy recounts.

But from then on, they lived in genteel poverty. "We were a very poor family," said Ogilvy. "My father's total income was less than $1,000 a year." His grandfather turned down an appeal from his father for a loan, and his father tried to commit suicide by cutting his throat. Although Ogilvy adored his father and thought him a great gentleman, he recognized he was a scholar, not a businessman. He saw his grandfather as the exact opposite. "He was hard as nails, but a very successful businessman. I couldn't make out whether I was going to be like my father or my grandfather."

When fathers fail, their children are often driven to be successful. The son would always be motivated to achieve—and obsessed with money.

* * *

The other Scottish strain, the Mackenzies—as in David Mackenzie Ogilvy—entered the family when grandfather Frank Ogilvy married Kythé Caroline Mackenzie in 1865. The Mackenzie history goes back to 1494, when King James IV awarded Hector Roy Mackenzie a "writ of fire and sword" to 170,000 acres of land, with 90 miles of seacoast, mountains, lakes, and streams—on the condition of providing jobs for the natives. The grant was a remote Highland estate on the west coast of Ross-shire. From 1494 to 1958—464 years—there was an unbroken succession from father to son of 15 lairds of Gairloch.

Sir Hector was a fearless (and almost incessant) warrior, but not as menacing as his half-brother Kenneth of the Battle, who once felt himself to have been insulted by his wife's cousin. Kenneth decided to return insult with insult by returning his wife (who had only one eye) to her family. He sent her back on a one-eyed pony, accompanied by a one-eyed servant, and followed by a one-eyed dog, naturally provoking some carnage.

Ogilvy, who described himself as a "perfervid" Mackenzie, persuaded his equally ardent sister Christina to publish the memoirs of their other Scottish grandfather. Dr. John Mackenzie was a reformer. He got his medical degree at the University of Edinburgh, where final examinations were conducted in Latin. As a young doctor, he worked in the slums of Edinburgh. Since most of the poor went to an apothecary, "the poor man's doctor," Dr. John abandoned medicine and returned to his beloved Highlands. It was the time of the Highland Clearances, with families being evicted to make way for sheep farming. Dr. John tried to persuade the crofters to modernize their methods of farming. He preached education for children, self-improvement for young men, slum clearance, public health, and abstinence from alcohol.

Ogilvy's gardening gene may have come from a Mackenzie relation. Osgood Mackenzie, Scotland's most famous gardener, developed a great garden at Inverewe in Northwest Scotland, now part of the National Trust.

* * *

Ogilvy's mother's side of the family, the Fairfields, were of Anglo-Irish descent but had lived in County Kerry for 400 years. In centuries past, many land-owning English and Scots were encouraged to buy land in Ireland to counter the Irish unrest. Ogilvy's Irish grandfather, Arthur Rowan Fairfield, was listed in the public records as a "Gentleman" (i.e., rich). A friend of George Bernard Shaw, grandfather Fairfield lectured his grandson (at age four) on the Armenian atrocities and the villainy of Liberal Party prime minister William Gladstone, "a cousin on the other side of my family."

Ogilvy's mother, Dorothy Blew Fairfield, called Dolly, was so tiny she was known as the "pocket Venus." A beautiful girl with brown eyes and freckles, she was intelligent, high strung—and ambitious. An 18-year-old medical student when she married her 33-year-old husband, she would grow frustrated being a wife and mother rather than a doctor, as she had planned. Without her medical career, and bored by her husband, Dolly fulfilled her ambitions through her children. She wanted them to make their marks in the world, and drove them to use their brains.

The marriage between Francis Ogilvy and Dorothy Fairfield produced two sons, Francis Fairfield Ogilvy and David Mackenzie Ogilvy, and three daughters: Kythé, Mary, and Christina.

David described his mother as a very hard Irishwoman and very eccentric, having come from a crazy Irish family. "People today would say nutty as a fruitcake. Didn't like me very much. Thought I was very materialistic."

There was a one-sided rivalry with David's elder (by eight years), high-achieving older brother. Francis would become by far the most important of the siblings in David's life, both fraternally and professionally. He was a star at school and established as an advertising agency executive in London when his young brother was still finding his way. Francis thought his brother was a genius and opened doors for him at every key juncture, a helping hand David barely acknowledged in his autobiography.

Ogilvy considered Christina the cleverest of his three sisters. A senior officer in military intelligence during World War II, she invented a device for reading people's mail without their knowledge. Her invention was a glass rod with a hook on the end that was slipped into the unlicked part of an envelope; the letter was extracted by rolling the rod and then replaced the same way after it was read. He was closest to Kythé, his eldest sister—tall, interesting, and extravagant—and he liked her husband, Sir Philip Hendy, the longtime head of the National Gallery in London. The second sister, Mary, became a social worker, then a housemother at a famous progressive school.

Dolly left some inherited money to her daughters because she thought women were too dependent on their husbands. She was known for stirring up the family with intellectual arguments, getting each member to take a different point of view, and her children grew up to be highly competitive, in the world and with each other. "They tended to get what they went after," said a friend.

A Fairfield cousin, Rebecca West, one of mid-twentieth-century Britain's most influential intellectuals and writers, changed her name from Cicely Isabel Fairfield because she thought nobody would take seriously a person with such a prissy name. Although her affair with the married H. G. Wells was open and emancipated, Ogilvy's parents refused to let David visit Wells, who in their view had seduced West. Ogilvy later became a good friend of West's, who told him his grandmother's side of the family was Jewish. "A big thrill," Ogilvy commented, "but Rebecca was an incurable liar, so I'm afraid it wasn't true."


Excerpted from The King of Madison Avenue by Kenneth Roman. Copyright © 2009 Kenneth Roman. Excerpted by permission of Palgrave Macmillan.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Author's Note: Me and David

Introduction: The King of Madison Avenue

An Eccentric Celtic Mixture

'I Failed Every Exam'

The Making of a Salesman

Who was Mather?

Lucre in America

The Farmer and the Spy

Big Idea

The Philosopher Kings

The True Church

The King in his Castle

Megamergers and Megalomaniacs

A Disease called Entertainment

The Burr of Singularity

Afterword: (More) Unpublished David Ogilvy

Source Notes




Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews

The King of Madison Avenue: David Ogilvy and the Making of Modern Advertising 2.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
durosas More than 1 year ago
Unfortunately, this book fell short of my expectations. It does not read well as far as being engaging and drawing the reader into its pages. Given the author's experience and background this was rather a surprise. I had anticipated that someone that had worked with Ogilvy would have had closer insights and more in-depth direct contextual reference down to going through specific scenarios as if Ogilvy himself had written the pages. Also, there were various instances where the author retreated back on his time-line in telling the story repeating facts or instances. The most riveting portion came during the moments where the author was directly involved in the events occurring which was the buy-out of the firm by WPP. But this portion proved short-lived and in reality had no connection to Ogilvy given that, based on this book, had little to any say at that juncture in the Company he had founded. Alas, I had hoped this would be as close as one could get to an auto-biography for David Ogilvy but in reality this fell well short.
Rici More than 1 year ago
The man who set the rules for advertising in postwar America was not an American. He created the style that is the basis for ads to this day. The story is well written and entertaining. Plus, it provides a good look at the fundamentals and philosophy of successful, clear ad writing.
TheAgencyReview More than 1 year ago
There are three questions one can justifiably ask of a biography: 1) who the hell is this joker anyway, 2) why is he so important that a book was written about him, and finally, 3) what’s in it for me (or said another way, what can I learn from his life so I don’t screw up in quite the same way?). For people in advertising, the answer to that first question is fairly easy. He is the man behind the Hathaway shirt ads. Behind the Schweppes ads. Behind the Rolls Royce ads. The man who created Ogilvy & Mather. The answers to the other two questions are more challenging. To get there, it helps if we divide Mr. Roman’s book into three parts: “BOM” (Before Ogilvy & Mather), “Anno Agency”, and “Post Partum”. “BOM” is full of the classic David Ogilvy mythology that has floated around for almost a century. His Celtic heritage, his English public school education and his brief career at Oxford. His work in the British secret service and as a chef at the Hotel Majestic in Paris. Selling stoves door-to-door in London and working with George Gallup in Hollywood. (to read the rest of this review, please visit
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
RolfDobelli More than 1 year ago
Author and adman Kenneth Roman worked for and with David Ogilvy for a quarter century at Ogilvy's groundbreaking ad agency Ogilvy & Mather. Thus, Roman is uniquely placed to understand Ogilvy in the context of his time and achievements. He presents Ogilvy's life and work, and explains what both meant at the time and now. Despite some unevenness in Roman's writing style and information flow, Ogilvy emerges as a singular hero in this saga of eccentricity, perseverance and native genius. getAbstract recommends this fast, insightful book to those who write advertising, those who want to, and those interested in the history of advertising and popular culture.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
DesignerReader More than 1 year ago
While I rarely discard a book, this book didn't hold my interest enough to continue reading after finish about 70% of the book. I have a feeling that there are probably better written, more interesting accounts of David Ogilvy's life out there. Until I browse around for a better advertising-mogul bio, I'll get my fix from (fictional) Mad Men episodes on AMC.