As the most powerful woman in advertising, and one of the most powerful business women in the world, Shelly Lazarus, CEO of Ogilvy & Mather, is someone to listen to. Recently, in a variety of different interviews, she reflected on her 35 years in the industry.
Her most recent personal intervention in the advertising industry was to oversee a campaign for Unilever’s Dove Cream Oil body wash, that culminated in a 30-second spot flighted during the Oscars. The ad was a screening of the winning entry in an online contest in which consumers were invited to create their own advertisements (see some of the entries – and some spoofs – on YouTube). This follows on from Dove’s award-winning campaign, “Campaign for Real Beauty”, that featured ordinary-looking women (see example at YouTube) and departed from conventional notions of beauty and beauty advertising. Unilever has also established a “self-esteem fund” – a worldwide campaign to persuade girls and young women to embrace more positive images of themselves.
The advert screened at the Oscars captures something of the spirit of advertising today, with its combination of old and new media, consumer-generated content, social software and an effort to engage the consumer rather than simply push a product.

“When I started in the business, television ads and three print ads were enough to advertise a brand,” says Mrs Lazarus. “Advertising was a straightforward business: agencies had to devise a good idea for an ad and then choose the right publication or broadcast slot in order to catch consumers’ attention. Today advertising is far more complex, thanks to technological advances, social shifts and the far greater sophistication of both advertisers and audiences. Modern consumers demand to be wooed, not berated. We have gone from intrusion into consumers’ lives to extending an invitation to them.”
User-generated content is just the latest trend in advertisers’ efforts to establish closer contact with consumers, and with women in particular. About 70% of all decisions to buy something are made by women, according to industry lore. “The consumer isn’t a moron—she is your wife,” as David Ogilvy, who founded the firm in 1948, liked to say.
In response to the rise of the internet and other new media, Mrs Lazarus decided to bring together previously separate creative departments in many Ogilvy offices across the world. The idea was to offer clients what she grandly calls “360 Degree Brand Stewardship”. Internet types sit together with television, print, outdoor-advertising, direct-marketing and public-relations specialists. This helps them dream up ideas that work across all types of media, rather than devising separate campaigns for each one.
Interactive, direct and other forms of non-traditional advertising accounted for more than half of Ogilvy’s revenue last year compared with about 15% ten years ago. But what you still need is a great idea, she says.

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