Selling a red brick on YouTube
One of the best books I ever read (and I’m a lifelong reader) was “Confessions of an Advertising Man.” It was written in 1963 by one of the original Mad Men, David Ogilvy, who started his firm (now Ogilvy & Mather in London, and OgilvyOne in New York) back in the 1950s. The reason his little book was such a good read was because it was very inspirational. Ogilvy told of how he started with nothing but a dream and built up one of the greatest advertising agencies in the world.
Ogilvy, who died in 1999, was a natural born salesman. His spirit still infuses the company, which just announced a worldwide contest, open to anyone over the age of 18: to create a short YouTube video in which you sell a red brick.
Yes, a red brick. “If you can sell a red brick, maybe you can sell anything,” a company executive was quoted in the N.Y. Times.
The winner gets a three-month job at OgilvyOne, and will help write a guide to selling in the 21st century. (The Times article mentioned that “The contest will also use other social media like Facebook and Twitter,” although it didn’t explain precisely how.)
When I read this, I was instantly reminded of A Really Goode Job  and, before that, of the Rockaway deal with bloggers . (Most readers here know all about those.) Both were, of course, instances of wineries experimenting with how to use social media and engage a new generation of consumers, the former through a contest. It made me wonder if the Ogilvy people knew about them.
What’s interesting to me isn’t the fact that yet another company is having a contest to bring attention to their social media efforts. We’re used to that by now. It’s that Ogilvy decided to have the contestants sell a red brick. Why such a prosaic item and not something cool and contemporary? As a company exec explained, “the iPad does not need ‘the world’s greatest salesperson.’”
In other words, the contestants are going to have to sell the sizzle, not the steak, since, in this case, there is no steak. They will get to display sheer artistry and talent. This brings up all kinds of ideas about marketing wine. Some wines sell themselves: they get great scores, collectors lust after them, there’s a waiting list for the mailing list, and they’re home free. Other wines have to be sold. We’re seeing a lot of attempts to sell now, but wineries seem to be scrambling to find the right message, the right price point, the right strategy.
Which is why there continues to be so much interest in social media. Ogilvy execs were quoted in the Times as saying things like “the consumer [is] in control” and “the salesperson needs to get invited in.” And selling is “less about intrusion and repetition and more about engagement and evangelizing.” (Although you wouldn’t necessarily know that if you watch TV, where commercials are more intrusive and repetitive than ever.)
So everybody is jumping into social media. Think about it. When the reformists in the streets of Tehran want to talk to the world, they tweet. That’s the same reason the old regime in China wants to censor searches: so their people can’t interact with the outside world, or even each other. That’s the big picture. What about the smaller world of wine in which we live? Wineries are on notice they have to sell harder than ever before. For some, that means they actually have to learn to sell in the first place.
David Ogilvy famously said, “No sale, no commission. No commission, no eat.” It’s the old law of the jungle, and social media — no matter how revolutionary it turns out to be — isn’t going to change it.