Society celebrates David Ogilvy’s legacy

WHAT’S the big idea? To find award winning marketing concepts and inspire different thinking, says Graeme Atha.

David Ogilvy, the advertising legend who died in 1999.

FROM memory I was around 14 years old when I first became aware of the advertising legend David Ogilvy

I found his book Confessions of an Advertising Man lying around the family house. I first thought it was soft porn left carelessly by my older brother and was part of the genre of the smutty Confessions films popular at the time. Classics such as Confessions of a Plumber, Confessions of a Taxi Driver etc.

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I imagined life in an advertising agency would not be that far removed from some of the saucy scenes that the hapless Timothy Lea (Robin Askwith) often found himself in.

I discovered the book had actually been sent to my father who worked for Unilever as a promotional initiative by Ogilvy & Mather.

On reading it I found myself getting aroused about the world of advertising, building brands and creating big ideas.

It was David who first coined the expression “big idea” in his famous quote – “advertising without a big idea passes like a ship in the night.”

I was also excited to read that David was proud of his Scottish roots and he used this to develop his own personal brand, often wearing a kilt to stand out in the corporate world of Madison Avenue and cocktail parties of Manhattan.

The Marketing Society in Scotland celebrates his legacy with the Ogilvy Lecture each year as part of our Amplify Marketing Festival during the Edinburgh International Fringe in August.

He also inspired the Pioneering Spirit Awards where we search the world to find big, award-winning marketing ideas and use them as inspiration to our members to be bold and think differently.

These big ideas are used as the basis of discussion and debate with senior marketers and creatives at a series of dinners in major international cities sponsored by Cutty Sark.

We have now reviewed over 150 ideas over the last three years with more than 200 judges at dinners from Hong Kong to New York, Sao Paulo to Istanbul, and Dubai to Mumbai.

The final shortlist of five ideas this year include an organ donation campaign from Brazil, an anti-child bride campaign from India and an anti-smoking campaign from Thailand

The other ideas were a food wastage campaign in France by Intermarche which also had a real commercial impact building a significant increase in store traffic and finally a new product and innovative distribution strategy by Sony in New Zealand.

The winners will be decided by members of The Marketing Society who will be invited to score the ideas on line using the following criteria: Was the idea bold, leading, inspiring as well as well executed and effective?

We also ask our guests to consider one of the criteria David Ogilvy used to determine a big idea. Did the idea have a physical impact on you? Did it physically excite you, make the hairs on the back of your neck stick up or give you goose bumps?

We use the Pioneering Spirit Awards in various event formats across the year from students at universities to directors at board level encouraging debate and discourse on the nature of a big idea.

At the Amplify Marketing Festival last year we created a World Cup format with 
guest speakers invited to represent an international campaign in a knock out competition where the audience voted which idea should progress through to the final and eventually win.

Not only did this test the ideas but also the speakers and their ability to win over the audience using their wit and intelligence as well the power 
of persuasion in a way that would have made David Ogilvy proud.

• Graeme Atha is a Director of The Marketing Society. For full details of the awards, see