David Ogilvy: Puerto Rico, Good Luck Margarine, and Dove Soap

After sundown, I drink nothing but Puerto Rico rum and Schweppes.

David Ogilvy

David Ogilvy believed in his clients’ products and potential. If a client refused to meet his demands, he’d cut ties and show them the door, but he took great care of the clients that he didn’t send packing. In many cases, he crafted stellar campaigns that saw an upsurge in profits for their respective companies. He also purchased and used many of the brands’ products he advertised. But even Ogilvy wasn’t perfect.

From his time sweating away in Parisian kitchens to operating one of the most sought-after advertising agencies in the world, he too made the occasional bad souffle.

Today, we look at three more Ogilvy & Mather accounts: the highly successful Puerto Rico and Dove campaigns; plus one of Ogilvy’s more atypical efforts, Good Luck Margarine. Celebrity endorsement, it turns out, has a way of making viewers forget the product while remembering the celebrity, although Eleanor Roosevelt sold a lot of margarine.

You can read the first article in our David Ogilvy series here.

“Now Puerto Rico Offers 100% Tax Exemption to New Industry”

“[The] most effective advertisement I have ever written.”
Ogilvy’s ad put Puerto Rico on the map as a vibrant tax-free haven for U.S. businesses. His work brought scores of new industries to the country, allowing a relatively obscure paradise to grow its economy and attract foreign investment.

Recognising Potential

Ogilvy’s first advertisement for Puerto Rico’s Operation Bootstrap sought to revitalise the country’s industry and potential for economic expansion.

But the question on everyone’s minds was: What was Puerto Rico to become? “A bridge between Latin America and the United States? An oasis of old Spanish culture? A modern industrial park?”

All involved were charged with two terrifying tasks: first, deciding the country’s socio-economic future, and second, making it a reality.

Neither Ted Moscoso (economic head of the Government of Puerto Rico) nor Ogilvy wanted the country to be “overrun by vulgar tourists,” and “changed into a second-class Miami beach”.

The looming danger that Puerto Ricans, with time, might forget their Spanish heritage in order to prove their American-ness was a serious threat. This wouldn’t do at all.

Ogilvy’s initial advertisement incorporated testimonials, facts and figures, and a mail coupon pushing savvy businessmen to send off for more information. It sold them the idea that they were missing out on an exotic commercial paradise, and, as always, Ogilvy told the truth.

“We must substitute a lovely image of Puerto Rico for the squalid image which now exists in the minds of most mainlanders. This is of cardinal importance to your industrial development, your rum industry, your tourism, and your political evolution.”

Confessions of an Advertising Man

Fourteen-thousand readers clipped the coupon, scores of whom later established factories in Puerto Rico. They pressed on with a series of ads pushing tourism with headlines like: “Renaissance in Puerto Rico–as seen by a girl of fifteen” to sell the beauty and familiarity of the culture, and to also create emotional resonance with readers.

Ogilvy’s ideas, initiated by Moscoso’s desire for a brighter future for Puerto Rico, were so good, that he persuaded spokesperson Beardsley Ruml to sign off on the initial ad copy without changing a single word. Ladies and gentlemen… talent.

Ogilvy knew that the surest path to success was to utilise a long-range campaign that would present Puerto Rico to the rest of the world as a country in renaissance — a fitting image with which to catch the eye of U.S. businessmen looking to invest. And it worked:

“It is, I believe, the only instance of an advertising campaign changing the image of a country.”

David Ogilvy

For Ogilvy, his greatest professional success was in seeing Puerto Rican communities, many of whom had previously been on the brink of starvation, finally flourish.

Prosperity for Puerto Rico, both socially and industrially, was always at the forefront of the campaign. Ogilvy succeeded because he recognised the real potential in the country: its culture and its people. The potential was ripe for Puerto Rico’s economic growth, which would, alongside foreign investment, raise up the country’s seat at the table of global politics.

Had Ogilvy confined himself to vacuous generalisations and snake-oil sales tactics to convince readers, the project would surely have been a certain disaster, both for his credibility and for Puerto Rico’s economic future.

“Years ago, people never dreamed of eating margarine. But times have changed.”

Eleanor Roosevelt
What Would Eleanor Do? 'If You Ask Me' Revisits Roosevelt's Advice ...
Former First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt; spokesperson for Good Luck Margarine. Ogilvy paid her $35,000 to make a television commercial, in which she told viewers how, “The new Good Luck margarine really tastes delicious.”

Flawed Approaches & Celebrity Endorsement

When Ogilvy & Mather scored Lever Brothers as a client in 1957, the powerhouse that went on to become Unilever came complete with two challenging assignments. It was O&M’s first packaged goods account, focused on selling an everyday food item to the mass-market. But Ogilvy, then inexperienced in television advertising, chose to write a full-page print ad addressing women across America:

“A challenge to women who would never dream of serving margarine–Lever Brothers defy you to tell the difference between GOOD LUCK margarine and you-know-what.”

The long copy (three columns; editorial format) depicted a husband attempting to persuade his wife to tell the difference between ordinary butter and Good Luck, while also detailing the nutritional benefits and health advantages. Not only was Good Luck healthy, but ninety-seven percent of its ingredients, the writer argued, came from American farms. Most bizarre, the ad closed with an anecdote about a Greenwich child who (for better or worse) had eaten a quarter-pound of the stuff “straight.”

Despite this early misstep, Ogilvy’s subsequent efforts brought home the bacon. He convinced Eleanor Roosevelt to endorse Good Luck in a short television commercial cost Ogilvy $35,000, but, while she sold a lot of margarine, in the end, “viewers remembered her and not the product.”

Ogilvy’s embarrassing ditty for Rinso soap came next… and lost O&M its most profitable account. Eventually, they redeemed themselves with a third assignment from Lever Brothers: a unique new product, a “beauty bar” that moisturised while it cleansed your skin.


Ogilvy's Dove campaign may have repositioned their brand to be the top soap seller
Ogilvy used “Darling” in the headline because a psychologist, after testing hundreds of words for their emotional impact, discovered that “darling” came in at the top of the list.

Making it Personal

O&M’s most flourishing assignment from Lever Brothers, their Dove campaign presented women everywhere with a new way to cleanse: a toilet bar that didn’t dry out your skin like regular soaps. Dove was the bathroom product to keep you looking fresh and clean, with soft skin to boot. Targeted specifically at women with dry or sensitive skin, the simple line: “DOVE creams your skin while you bathe” was key to O&M’s marketing strategy for the product.

The Dove toilet bar offered something competitors didn’t. Rather than strip away essential oils, it cleansed and creamed all at once, whether soaking in the bath or enjoying a hot shower. O&M’s campaign pulled in sixty-three percent more orders for the iconic toilet bars than any competing brands at the time. Quite an achievement for O&M. So much so that their approach has since carried over to every subsequent Dove ad and commercial. The “1/4 moisturizing cream” formula was, it turned out, absolute genius.

Suddenly, DOVE makes soap old-fashioned!

In Ogilvy’s words, it was “a mistake to use highfalutin language” when advertising to the general public. At the time, and even today, the vast majority of customers are uneducated. Ogilvy once used the word Obsolete in one of his headlines, only to discover that “43% of housewives had no idea what it meant.” Even Ogilvy, an Oxford man, was not immune to this trap. He once wrote the word Ineffable for a different headline, and discovered that he himself had no idea what it meant.

Short words, short sentences, and short paragraphs (as described in Dr Rudolph Flesch’s Art of Plain Talk) are critical to crafting highly personal copy that sells. This was true for Dove then, and is still true today. Whether in advertising or in real life, readers don’t appreciate being talked down to. Writing in the vernacular, too, contributes to an intimate, familiar tone that does a heck of a job of persuading consumers to buy.

Written by Michael Conroy.


David Ogilvy, Confessions of an Advertising Man (New York: South Bank, 1963).

David Ogilvy, On Advertising (New York: Crown, 1983).

Kenneth Roman, The King of Madison Avenue (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009).

Copyright © 2020 Sirius Editorial | All Rights Reserved

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