Academy for Wayward Authors: David Ogilvy’s Iconic Hathaway Shirt Campaign and the Magic of Story

In 1951, Ellerton Jette, the president of a small-town shirt manufacturer in Waterville, Maine, contacted David Ogilvy.

He informed Ogilvy that he had only $30,000 to run an advertising campaign for his shirt company. Despite knowing Ogilvy was used to working with much bigger clients, Jette promised that he would not change a word of copy and would never fire Ogilvy, regardless of how big his company got.

Ogilvy took on the account and created one of the most iconic advertising campaigns for one of the most basic products, the dress shirt.

While the copy was critical to the advertisement’s success, the item that changed it all was an eye patch.

Ogilvy went to the photo shoot and asked the model to do a few shots wearing an eye patch. The result was a photo that left you curious about the man with the eye patch. Who was this guy? Is he someone famous? Do I need to know him?

This drove you to the headline and the copy.

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Did you notice they didn’t even use the same guy, but there was always the eye patch?

Hathaway Shirts grew to become the second-largest shirt manufacturer. Ogilvy held that account until the company’s chairman, Jette, retired decades later.

What made this advertising so powerful is something you are naturally good at—storytelling.

As you paged through the magazine, you saw an interesting guy with an eye patch. It piqued your curiosity. Upon reading the copy, you didn’t get any resolution to what happened to this guy and his eye, but exposition about how American men learned that a superiorly crafted dress shirt was necessary for style.

They built a brand and sold commodity shirts by creating a feeling of status through product choice. They made a personality for a white dress shirt. Although never explicitly stated, the theme was that cool, stylish men of international intrigue wore Hathaway shirts. In most cases, the copy was based on facts such as the origin of the fabric and buttons and the factory’s location.

Of the greatest importance was the focus on bringing the reader in and positioning them as someone who needed to differentiate themselves by being a Hathaway man.

The David Ogilvy approach to advertising

How can you use the creativity of your advertisement to trigger curiosity?

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The internet will be swamped with cool AI-generated images. That means getting someone to pause and dig deeper will become more challenging if there isn’t some application of behavioral psychology to stop the scroll of someone with a desire you can meet and get them to read your Gene Schwartz-quality headline.

If you get someone to stop, what story do you want to immerse them in? Not the book you want them to buy, but the story of why they should give you their time and money for that book. How would that story compel them to act? These are the questions that David Ogilvy could answer. He understood that he had to establish the reader inside an experience where they see themselves achieving their desires.

He would only begin evaluating once he had at least twenty headlines. Understand that you can do that in seconds, but those 20 headlines don’t hold a candle to Ogilvy’s headlines because underneath their generation was his creativity, research, and experience. ChatGPT only has what you bring in those areas.

Now, this is where you have an advantage. Besides you being a storyteller by trade, your ideal reader WANTS to be transported and have an experience. As you look at your marketing and designing the only ad you would run for 365 days, think through how the creative draws them into the emotional journey.

Read: Building Trustworthy Communication With Potential Customers