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David Ogilvy

“There’s an old story about David Ogilvy, one of the original mad men that established the dominance of the advertising field in the 50s and 60s, that seems to deal with storytelling as an avenue to create empathy. One morning on his walk to work, Ogilvy saw a beggar with a sign around his neck.


The poor man slouched in a corner and would occasionally hold the cup up to his ear to give it a rattle, because he was unable to tell how much money was in it by looking. Most days, the beggar didn’t hear much. Ogilvy was in good spirits that day. It was late April in New York, when the air is beginning to warm, and there’s a peaceful pause before the city falls into the oppressive heat of summer. He decided to help the beggar, and dropped a contribution into the cup. Ogilvy explained what he did for a living when the beggar thanked him, and he asked for permission to modify the sign around the man’s neck. Upon receiving consent, he took the sign and added a few words.

That night, on his way home, Ogilvy said hello to the beggar, and was pleased to see his cup overflowing. The beggar, frazzled with his success, and uncertain of what Ogilvy did to the sign, asked what words were added.


Ogilvy was able to create empathy in the passersby, who would have ignored the blind man, by adding a story.”


From The Shape of Design by Frank Chimero (You can download the entirety of this book on Chimero’s website).

Ernest Hemingway was once at lunch with a smattering of friends and other writers. As they waited for the bill, he made a wager with the table, betting that he could tell an entire story in just six words. Once his skeptical dining companions had eagerly tossed their bills into the center of the table, Hemingway jotted on a napkin and passed it around for each to read. On it was the six-word story: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

Not one person at the table raised an objection as Hemingway smirked and scooped up the pile of cash.

Read on:

  • Ogilvy’s ten rules for writing
  • Sebastian Junger confronts the question of how to understand your relationship to your audience
  • I took every book I read last year and reviewed each in a sentence

David Ogilvy