Monomaniacs & Ampersands

Ogilvy & Mather Logo

Recently Ogilvy restored Edmund Mather alongside David Ogilvyin the company name. The agency once again became known as Ogilvy & Mather.

So who was this man Mather and why is it important that he is immortalized alongside the legendary Ogilvy?

Edmund Mather, originally a Scotsman, can genuinely claim to be the founder of the first modern ad agency in 1850 in London. Forty years later, his son Harley went into partnership with Herbert Crowther, forming Mather & Crowther, and it was that agency which, in 1936, took a chance on a young David Ogilvy, sponsoring him to move to the USA to study the latest American advertising techniques.

In 1948, it was Mather & Crowther, as well as Samuel Benson, who provided the financial backing for the 38-year-old Ogilvy to start his own agency in New York.

That shop flourished into one of the giants of Madison Avenue and, in 1965, Ogilvy merged the agency with his original financial backers, Mather & Crowther, to form the global company, Ogilvy & Mather.

The firm went by that name (or the acronym O&M) for many years but in more recent times the zeitgeist was favouring the short and the snappy and so the word Mather fell off the company slate. We became Ogilvy.

I wasn’t privy to the discussion about reinstating Mather as part of our corporate identity, but I’m hoping the logic was as follows….

As a company Ogilvy & Mather isn’t one-dimensional. We’re about the work, but we’re also about making sure that the work works. We’re an agency that has both creativity and effectiveness baked into our DNA. We strive for excellence on both fronts. We aspire to climb the ‘twin peaks’. There is a serious duality in our culture which is reflected in the title Ogilvy & Mather.

To my mind, it is the aspiration to strive for excellence on both fronts that makes Ogilvy & Mather sustainable. It is the dualism that makes us enduring.

In a recent brilliant article in the NY Times, political commentator David Brookswrote; “the world unfortunately has too many monomaniacs — people who pick one side of any creative tension and wish the other would just go away”. He makes the telling point that “politics has become a contest of monomaniacs. One faction champions austerity while another champions growth. One party becomes the party of economic security and the other becomes the party of creative destruction. “

Advertising too has its fair share of monomaniacs. They are the people who reject imaginative creativity as irrelevant or a distraction to the job of selling. Or people who believe that creativity in advertising is a justifiable end in itself and that selling somehow gets in the way. Too often the discussion in advertising agencies is polarised. It is Suits vs Creatives. Client vs Agency. We see too much advertising that suffers from a dire lack of creativity and also a fair amount of work where undisciplined creativity leads to irrelevance.

As David Brooks points out; “the right course is usually to push hard in both directions, to be a house creatively divided against itself, to thrive amid the contradictions.”

When we’re at our best, this is what makes Ogilvy & Mather unique. It is our relentless resolve to strive for the ‘and’ that sets us apart as a culture. Not ‘both’ as in a compromise or a lowest common denominator, but excellence in the logic of our business and in the magic of creativity.

I believe we recognise, more than any other Agency, that our business will always be one in which healthy tensions between opposing forces (let’s grandly call it art and science) are fundamental to vitality and health. When one force triumphs, it inevitably leads to an eventual collapse.  In our agency, we’ve created a culture which embraces this tension.

In his important book, ‘The Opposable Mind’, University of Toronto Professor Roger Martin shows how the world’s best companies and leaders stand out because they’re able to deal with contradictions and embrace the tensions which exist between opposing concepts. Author F. Scott Fitzgerald also held this view, commenting that ‘the mark of a first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two contradictory thoughts in your mind at the same time.’

Ogilvy & Mather is at its best when we’re embracing the tensions that exist between creativity and strategy, when we comprehensively understand our client’s reality and business problems and strive to solve these in the most creative way. We thrive when we have deep insight confronting the best creative minds. We work optimally in the crucible of these opposing forces, when we generate a constructive embrace of conflicting imperatives.

So today, Edmund Mather has been restored to his place alongside David Ogilvy. While we know very little of what he really stood for beyond being the pioneering brain and moneyman of the first major agency, Mather serves as a metaphor as he rides alongside the creative genius of Ogilvy, ensuring that our corporate identity once again reflects the DNA of our company – the energy that comes from striving for excellence in logic and magic.

That is the power of the humble ampersand in Ogilvy & Mather.

Article by Rob Hill, COO, Ogilvy & Mather South Africa

More on Ogilvy & Mather’s History here




3) “The Opposable Mind; How Successful Leaders Win Through Integrative Thinking’’ by Professor Roger Martin published by Harvard Business Press.