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Updated: Oct 5, 2020

By Melina Seeam (August 2020)

“We all have a moral compass that guides our daily life. It’s hardwired into us and defines who we are and what we stand for. Our values are how we form connections with others, and help us bond with friends, family, colleagues and our communities” – Nicola Watts

Throughout the course of history, morality has inspired the crafting of a powerful tool, that of the moral compass. The metaphor of the moral compass helps us in the defining process of morally acceptable acts of individuals. Fixed by and varied across societies, cultures and religions, they differ a great deal from ethics which instead is guided by choice. Ethics allow us to decide if the moral decisions that are being made are to the highest sense.

Integrating moral compass in a brand’s DNA brings more appeal to the brand’s personality, which may be very beneficial in maintaining a strong relationship with the target market. After all, brand personality is what allows a brand to bond with an individual which later converts into business. In the rush of doing business to meet with objectives and deadlines, a brand may lose its moral compass as a failure to look at ethics as a key driver to its success. Corporate ethics must also be incorporated into the brand to showcase its values and standards in alignment with that of the target market. This is aimed at uplifting reputation as well as fostering customer trust in the brand.

In advertising, ethics is just as important as in any other industry. The ethical vision can only be fulfilled once the moral compass is in place. An agency culture that does not shy away from adopting ethics is a major requirement. Employees should easily be able to differentiate between the right and wrong codes of conduct at work. Rewarding and recognizing their ethical behavior will encourage them to stay on the right track. Unethical acts will lead to employees being subjected to disciplinary procedures or being fired. By showing moral duty, clients together with community would feel like the business actually cares about what they need. It positions the business as a responsible one that is determined to meet these needs. Experience with enticing false advertising has fostered even more distrust in people. The vision of the company must be shared as this is what will reconvince the lost market that the products and services are truly beneficial for them.

The Ogilvy design for ethics is elaborated as follows:

  1. Our offices must always be headed by the kind of people who command respect. Not phonies, zeros or bastards.

  2. Always be honest in your dealings with clients. Tell them what you would do if you were in their shoes.

  3. If we do a good job for our clients, that will become known. We will smell success, and that will bring us success.

  4. If we treat our employees well, they will speak well of Ogilvy to their friends. Assuming that each employee has 100 friends, 250,000 people now have friends who work for Ogilvy. Among them are present and prospective clients.

  5. In meeting with clients, do not assume the posture of servants. They need you as much as you need them.

  6. While you are responsible to your clients for sales results, you are also responsible to consumers for the kind of advertising you bring into their homes. Your aim should be to create advertising that is in good taste. I abhor advertising that is blatant, dull, or dishonest. Agencies which transgress this principle are not widely respected.

  7. We must pull our weight as good citizens.

Business ethics is shaped around honesty, integrity, promise-keeping, loyalty, fairness, care and compassion, respect, law abiding, excellence, leadership, morale and accountability.

In 1850, Edmund Mather founded an advertising agency in London at the age of 27, a century after the Industrial Age emerged in Great Britain. Later on, it became known as Ogilvy & Mather following a merger with David Ogilvy’s New York based agency. John Seifert, CEO, Ogilvy Worldwide, announced in 2018, a change in the business model with the name transitioning from Ogilvy & Mather to simply Ogilvy. The ideation behind the brand restructure was that all of the 450 offices in 120 countries were to become more unified through the rebranding and new logo as one big international family.

Ogilvy has set an example by evolving from an agency with few clients and employees to a strong one, rich in company culture, values and standards. 170 years later, the names Mather, Crowther, Hewitt & Benson which were previously linked to the agency have been dropped with the exception of Ogilvy. The latter has survived through the sands of time due to the legacy of brand values grounded at its very core and continues to be acted upon today by all of the ‘Ogilvies’ across the globe.

David Ogilvy placed high value on the moral compass in order to ensure the agency’s business journey is unquestionably heading towards a ‘true’ north. Office politics is a well-known problem at work that tend to destroy the internal environment. Due to these internal politics, the energy is misplaced onto the wrong things than on the right ones which should rather include more devotion to clients. “I want all our people to believe that they are working in the best agency in the world. A sense of pride works wonders.” The moral of Ogilvy is to:

  1. Always be fair and honest in your own dealings; unfairness and dishonesty at the top can demoralize [a company].

  2. Never hire relatives or friends.

  3. Sack incurable politicians.

  4. Crusade against paper warfare. Encourage your people to air their disagreements face-to-face.

  5. Discourage secrecy.

  6. Discourage poaching.

  7. Compose sibling rivalries.

Modern advertisers tend to ignore the value of having principles as part of their corporate culture. At Ogilvy, the formulation laid by our founder many years ago still guides us to this very day. Creative brilliance, research, actual results and professional discipline is a must in this industry.


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