updated 10/10/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT
•originally published 10/10/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT
The present lord—or laird—of Touffou, David Mackenzie Ogilvy, perceives his château with something like awe. "I regard myself," he says, "as the temporary caretaker of this wonderful place." But if Ogilvy is awed by the château, he himself is held in awe by the neighborhood. At 72, and looking decades younger, he seems to be the very model of a grand seigneur, defending his château with the chivalrous ardor of a feudal baron saving a maiden from dragons. Soon after acquiring the castle in 1967, Ogilvy learned that the foundations were resting on sand, and the building was gradually slipping into the river. Extending the ramparts down to bedrock took two years and a lot of money and labor. Then the 16th-century frescoes in the Chambre François Premier began to flake away, and artisans had to be summoned from Florence to restore them. The upkeep costs a fortune, but David Ogilvy can afford it: As the founding father and longtime head of Ogilvy & Mather, the vast international advertising agency, he is an enormously wealthy man. "It is as though he picked up a jewel in a ruin," says his third wife, Herta, the Mexican-born chatelaine of Touffou. "For the sake of restoring something beautiful, he has spent one-third of all he has made in the last 15 years."
Ogilvy discovered Touffou when he and his second wife, Anne Cabot Ogilvy, were bicycling in France on a summer vacation. It was love at first sight, and when Ogilvy learned that the château's aristocrat owner had been bilked out of every sou he owned by the larcenous manager of the family business, and that Touffou was up for sale, he wasted no time in snapping it up for the unprincely sum of less than $500,000.
For several years Ogilvy was able to get to his château only during vacations. "I would sit in my Madison Avenue office, looking at all that concrete, and dream of being at Touffou," he recalls. At length, in 1975, he decided to retire and make his home at the château. But his retirement from Ogilvy & Mather was a euphemism. Ogilvy retained a seat on the board of directors and gave himself the title "Creative Head," passing judgment on all of the agency's advertising campaigns, journeying to its New York headquarters several times a year, and keeping in daily contact with his Manhattan-based secretary through the nattering Telex in his château office. He will be in New York again this week to check things out at O&M, and to go on a national tour to promote his new book, Ogilvy on Advertising (Crown, $24.95).
"He's not retired at all," says John ("Jock") Elliott Jr., 62, who succeeded Ogilvy as chairman of O&M. "He's very involved with training our creative people all over the world. He's known around Ogilvy & Mather as the 'Holy Spook.' He reviews every advertising campaign from every office twice a year. He writes a critique on each office's performance (O&M has 165 offices in 39 countries), sending notes of praise—and sometimes a check—to those copywriters whose work he especially admires." And for work he dislikes? "He's gotten a little more politic than he used to be. He's not quite as caustic in his comments."
His peripatetic overseeing of Ogilvy & Mather's empire is not easily undertaken, for David Ogilvy has an intense fear of flying. His trips to New York are made mostly aboard Concordes ("Just three and a half hours of hell versus seven," he explains) and his mood is black for days in advance of each trip. He has a similar phobia about elevators. During World War II, when he was with British Intelligence on the 36th floor of Manhattan's RCA Building, he never went out to lunch: Two vertical trips a day were all he could manage.
In Ogilvy on Advertising, which is a sequel, 20 years later, to his best-selling Confessions of an Advertising Man, the man once referred to as "the Pope of modern advertising" provides a brief list of the men he considers to have been the giants of his trade, all of whom are dead. Ogilvy would be the first to agree that his own name should be inscribed among them, if not a bit above, and most of his Madison Avenue colleagues would concur. David Ogilvy has brought taste and imagination to a trade that is too often banal and imitative. What sets him apart among the Titans of advertising are his skill and wit as a copywriter, his diligence in researching his product, and a knack for finding the precise phrase or image that will touch his readers' imaginations. When, in 1958, he used the memorable headline AT 60 MILES AN HOUR THE LOUDEST NOISE IN THIS NEW ROLLS-ROYCE COMES FROM THE ELECTRIC CLOCK, Ogilvy says, "Sales went up dramatically—on a peppercorn budget." Never one to mince words, Ogilvy advocates striking photographs, lengthy, pellucid headlines and lengthier, fact-crammed textblocks beneath.
Ogilvy has the merit badges to go with his reputation. Queen Elizabeth awarded him the Order of the British Empire (though the Queen seemed puzzled when she presented him with the medal and asked him what he did for a living), and Jean-Louis Servan-Schreiber, the French journalist, named Ogilvy one of 30 men who exercised the greatest influence on the Industrial Revolution, making him the only living member of that pantheon, which included Einstein, Lenin and Henry Ford.
On a recent trip to India, where Ogilvy held one of his seminars with the subcontinent's Ogilvy & Mather representatives, he was received like a Mogul emperor. "Everywhere I went, they wanted my autograph. I was their guru. It was the first time in my life I've had too much adulation," he says. He came away from India with a new cause: nothing less than a plan to bring birth control to the Indian masses. "Pills, vasectomies—advertising is very good at putting that sort of thing over," he says. David will pay for the campaign out of his own pocket.
An obsessive concern with large causes is an old Ogilvy habit. He has long been a fervid conservationist. Though Touffou's previous owner kept wild boars in the dry moat and staged thundering hunts through his woodlands, Ogilvy will permit no hunting on the property and writes fiery conservationist ads for the World Wildlife Fund. Another obsession is his garden, a large and lovely tract surrounded by a mile of clipped hedges and filled with all manner of flowers, fruits, vegetables, trees and herbs. "This is the most peaceful corner in all of Touffou," he says, of one leafy nook. "A sort of palpable calm descends on you when you enter."
David Ogilvy's days at Touffou begin at 7:30 a.m., when his gardener brings him a breakfast of homemade croissants and brioches, heather honey from the master's own bees and tea. Herta Ogilvy gets a barometric reading on the seigneurial mood from the appearance of the gardener: "If he's slinking along, hat in hand, when he leaves, I know we're in for a bad day." At 9:15 Ogilvy holes up in his office with the morning mail and correspondence before putting his instructions or questions on the Telex to New York. Then his thoughts usually turn to the garden. He lunches under a 300-year-old holly tree on the terrace, weather permitting, and tea is poured promptly at 5. Dinner follows punctually at 7:30. Weekends are full of houseguests, as many as 15 at a time. There are horses and bicycles to ride through the woodland trails that speak of Roland and Charlemagne, and swimming in the pool during the summer.
The road to Touffou began in 1911 in West Horsley, England ("It was something like being born in New Jersey," says Ogilvy). The son of a Gaelic-speaking Scottish stockbroker and his peppery Irish wife, David was born on June 23, as both his father and grandfather had been before him. (Father Francis bet him 100 pounds he could not replicate the birthday with his own progeny, and so far he has not, although not, he says, for lack of trying.) The Ogilvys were highland gentry and at one time well-heeled, but with the outbreak of World War I, when David was 3, the family fortune vanished with his father's investments. David managed to get to Oxford on a scholarship but, an inattentive student, was expelled after only two years.
From that point on, David Ogilvy's career caromed crazily from one field to another. He was an under-chef in the kitchen of the Hotel Majestic in Paris, where, he says, he learned discipline. "For 10 hours a day, six days a week," he wrote in his autobiography, Blood, Brains & Beer, "I had to stand ramrod straight at a red-hot stove, soaked in sweat from head to foot." Although he is still an accomplished cook, Ogilvy did not stay in Paris long enough to find out his culinary destiny. Instead, he took a job selling the thermally efficient Aga stove, a Swedish invention, in England, then in Scotland, and decided he did not like his dour countrymen at all. But he approved of the stove: an enormous Aga dominates the kitchen at Touffou. When the stovemakers asked him to write a sales manual, he liked his writing so well he sent a copy along to his older brother, Francis, at the London advertising agency Mather & Crowther. The agency heads were impressed enough to give David a job as a trainee.
He was quite successful, and Mather & Crowther soon promoted him to account executive, but he had his eyes on greener pastures. After four years he decided to try his luck in the United States. He landed a job, not in advertising, but with the Gallup Poll. George Gallup was notorious for the niggardly salaries he paid his employees, but Ogilvy learned a lot about polling, which he later applied to predicting the outcome of advertising campaigns. Before he signed on with the Gallup organization, Ogilvy married Melinda Street, an 18-year-old music student from Richmond, Va., who became the mother of his only child. David Fairfield Ogilvy, now 40, is a successful real estate entrepreneur in Greenwich, Conn.
During World War II David was a British Intelligence officer and diplomat in New York and Washington. In 1940 he had passed through Pennsylvania on a train, spotted some Amish farmers in a buggy, and become fascinated with them and their ways. It was the beginning of another obsession. In 1946, the war over, Ogilvy bought a farm near Lancaster, Pa., and settled down among the Amish as a tobacco farmer. Two years later he abandoned the land ("I worried too much to be a successful farmer") and headed, at long last, for Madison Avenue. With $6,000 he had inherited from an aunt, and another $90,000 in backing that his brother raised from London advertising executives, he boldly launched Hewitt, Ogilvy, Benson & Mather. After six years his partner, Anderson Hewitt, left the firm because of differences with Ogilvy, and, as the British backers were paid off, the firm name continued to shrink. "They keep the name Mather as an historical pain in the ass," grumbles Ogilvy, who now owns only a small share of the company. "I wish they'd drop it, but it's hardly up to me."
David Ogilvy began making waves in the advertising trade almost at once. His flamboyant red suspenders, omnipresent pipe and imperious manner identified him, and his advertisements were distinguished by a certain stylish flair. It was Ogilvy who bought an eye patch for $1.50 and clapped it on the eye of Baron George Wrangell, a down-at-heel Russian nobleman, to create "the Man in the Hathaway Shirt." Ogilvy persuaded Commander Ted Whitehead, the president of Schweppes U.S.A., to lend his own presence, gingery beard and "Schweppervescence" to the tonic-water ads, and talked Eleanor Roosevelt into appearing in a Good Luck margarine TV commercial—for $35,000. "She needed the money for one of her charities," he explains.
His genius for advertising with a touch of class was matched by Ogilvy's self-esteem and his reputation as a terrible-tempered tyrant. After FORTUNE printed an article about him under the headline IS OGILVY A GENIUS?, he remarked, only partly tongue-in-cheek, "I nearly sued them for the question mark." In 1960, after 12 years as a "boutique agency," Ogilvy & Mather acquired its first major account, Shell Oil, and got into the big time. Since then, Ogilvy & Mather has gathered in many more blockbuster clients, including General Foods, Campbell Soup, Sears and Unilever. With total billings of $2.2 billion a year, it is now the fifth-ranking advertising agency in the world, after Japan's Dentsu and the U.S. giants, Young & Rubicam, Ted Bates Worldwide, and J. Walter Thompson Co. "In the lean years," says David Ogilvy, "I had a constant fear of losing clients, and what should have been a pleasure was eroded by that fear. Now I'm not frustrated anymore. It's a huge institution we have, and the loss of any one account will not affect us." David Ogilvy's place in the history of advertising is secure, and the institution he founded may prove only slightly more ephemeral than the venerable castle that is his home and life's monument.