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Why David Ogilvy Is Wrong About Dishonest Advertising

Foto de David MacKenzie OgilvyImage via Wikipedia

As someone who works full time at the agency founded by David Ogilvy, there are plenty of reminders of his wisdom on the walls. Even online, at least once a day I see a tweet come through with someone quoting one of his famous sayings. So I don't disagree with him lightly, but he did have one quote about dishonesty in advertising that I wish were true – but isn't:

"Political advertising ought to be stopped. It's the only really dishonest kind of advertising that's left."

Unfortunately there are entire categories of dishonest advertising and marketing today that are actively being unleashed upon consumers and plaguing the industries that they operate within. In many cases, the backlash against reputable companies is in reaction to the efforts of these bad seeds. Here are a few examples:

  1. Spam. Top of the list has to be spam of all sorts, which descends on people's personal and professional email addresses and causes major credibility problems for the entire field of email marketing.
  2. Miracle Cures. While the FDA mandates strict rules for reputable pharmaceutical organizations promoting real products that can make an impact in people's lives, miracle cures like Trigosamine buy full page ads in the NY Times claiming 100% efficacy in clinical trials (no exaggeration) and promise to reinvent your life … all without needing any approval from anyone at all. It is no wonder the pharma industry has a trust problem.
  3. Credit/Financial Offers. From sneaky credit reporting offers signing you up unintentionally for useless "monitoring" to pre-approved credit offers that many blame at least in part for the recent financial crisis, there are no shortage of dishonest tricks when it comes to the unscrupulous within the financial industry.

Though I wish David Ogilvy were right about political advertising being the only dishonest form left,  clearly there are others. If there were a cause the marketing industry would do well to take up, it would be to fight these forms of marketing anywhere they appear. As a marketer, don't work on them. As a publisher, don't accept ads from them … and as a consumer, don't give them any attention. Maybe we can still make Ogilvy right again.

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9 thoughts on “Why David Ogilvy Is Wrong About Dishonest Advertising”

  1. You wouldn’t happen to know when he said that eh?

    It may have been true at one point, when advertising was confined to a smaller group of agencies. They knew that in the long run dishonest advertising would hurt their clients and them as well. Now it’s so easy to have your voice heard. It only makes sense that some would try dishonest tactics for a quick fix.

    T.H.E. Extraordinary Marketer
    THINK Marketing. HAVE Strategy. EMBRACE Technology

  2. Many quotes that charismatic ad men have survived today, like the founder of my company, Mr.Bernbach himself. Whilst most of them are almost immortalised because of their remaining truths, this Ogilvy quote might be one to exclude from that list. Perhaps it was true of that time, perhaps it was Mr. Ogilvy’s personal hatred of politicians.

  3. I bet you’ve sat in at least one meeting and told a client that you were excited about their product, when in truth, it’s really just floor cleaner. In black and white terms, ALL advertising is dishonest, creating a fictional or non-literal narrative around everyday products in order to stimulate an emotional connection that just wouldn’t exist otherwise.

    It is possible however that I’m just being grumpy because I’m slightly hungover today. That’s me being honest btw…

  4. I’d add ‘Food and Nutrition’ products to it. In fact the more I think about about exaggeration an false advertising, I feel all FMCG products do that one way or the other.

  5. Advertising is “honest” when it appeals to emotion and/or reason, “dishonest” when it exploits addiction. And you can quote me on that.

  6. Great points, Rohit!
    As a former BBDO employee, these quotes often catch my eye and cause me to pause, relating them to today. As long as there are dishonest business practices and snake oil sales folk misrepresenting their own products or services — as through the ages — I completely agree dishonest ‘advertising’ exists in many forms. The great thing about social media and the ability to communicate one message to many is that now feedback, information and warnings can be easily communicated — to forewarn others, possibly leading to statement retractions and potentially pulling the plug on businesses engaged in unfair business practices or illicit operations.

  7. The Internet has indeed changed marketing as everyone used to know it. Unless you are a local marketer that promotes local businesses online, people can use marketing tactics however they want to with or without truth without any or little consequence. It is a shame for those who are honest about their business and what they can and cannot do. I have heard it said to me several times from local and non local companies that they will never put their business online because Internet marketing is just full of spammers and scam artists. Like they say, one bad egg (or in the marketing world, a lot of bad eggs) ruins it for the rest of us.


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Rohit is the author of 9 books on trends, the future of business, building a more human brand with storytelling and how to create a more diverse and inclusive world.


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