It all began with this comment from direct response copywriter Bob Bly to Euro RSCG co-founder Tom Messner on Bly's blog:
"David Ogilvy wrote: 'At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock.' Madison Avenue wrote: 'At Ford, Quality is Job One.' Case closed."
Actually, things were just getting started. In the same string of comments tied to Bly's post, "Why I Don't Admire Jerry Della Femina," Messner dropped this bombshell:
"A guy I knew at BBDO had an ad for Pierce-Arrow circa 1932 in his office. (Jerry Gerber was his name.) Framed. It was the Rolls-Royce headline done for that company, Pierce-Arrow."
What you see at the top is a Pierce-Arrow ad that ran in the February 27, 1933 issue of Time. I believe it's the only image of the ad presently available on the Internet. My daughter and I retrieved it from microfilm with the help of the reference librarians at the Wellesley Free Library. The ad contained this headline:
"The only sound one can hear in the new Pierce-Arrows is the ticking of the electric clock."
Obviously, Tom Messner was right. But did David Ogilvy do anything wrong? Since Ogilvy was a proponent of fact-based communication, let's sort out some of the questions and facts.
Was Ogilvy old enough to recall the Pierce-Arrow ad? Absolutely. He was 21 when it ran. And besides, Ogilvy could have easily put his hands on Pierce-Arrow advertising as part of his information-gathering process for the Rolls-Royce campaign. In fact, I'd be surprised if Ogilvy & Mather employees didn't review the Pierce-Arrow work -- one of the first consistently great automotive advertising campaigns..
Is there a chance Ogilvy -- or one of his copywriters -- wrote the Rolls-Royce headline with absolutely no knowledge of the Pierce-Arrow ad? Yes. But the two headlines were very similar and appeared in advertising for super luxury cars within a 25-year span.
If Ogilvy or a colleague worked off the Pierce-Arrow headline, did they do a disservice to the client? No. An agency's main job is to help maximize sales of the client's product. Ogilvy or a colleague may have built on a line that ran in a dusty old one-third page vertical ad for a long-defunct company. You don't take originality to the bank. What matters is the bottom line, and from what I've read, this ad was enormously successful.
Does this diminish the Ogilvy legend? No. If anything, it humanizes Sir David. We see a man operating on all cylinders (pun intended) to deliver the best possible outcome for his client. Ogilvy, through his agency work, lectures and books, probably did more to make clients and agency people successful than anyone who ever stepped into a Madison Avenue elevator. His agency remains at the top of the advertising game nearly 50 years after the Roll-Royce ad originally ran.
Is it productive to bring this information out at this time? Yes. Ogilvy & Mather's Rolls-Royce campaign is an important piece of American advertising history, and the Pierce-Arrow connection is a noteworthy part of the story.
What do you think?