#010: How Ogilvy Built A National Brand Overnight With Just $1.50

In 1951, Ellerton Jette walked into the office of ad legend, David Ogilvy.

Ellerton wasn’t the usual Ogilvy & Mather client.

He didn’t have thousands of employees. He wasn’t household name. He didn’t have a 7-figure ad budget.

In fact, his budget was only $30,000 ($300k today) per year.

Yet Ellerton convinced Ogilvy to advertise his business.

Ogilvy never made much money from it. He wrote that he only made $6,000 profit ($60k today).

But Ellerton’s company made millions.

What made the difference?

Just $1.50 on a wet Tuesday morning.

A 100-Year Old Company

In 1932, Ellerton and Charles McCarthy bought a company.

This company opened some time in the 1830s. Meaning it was in business for about 100 years by that point.

This story is the oldest in the series by far. It happens decades before the story behind the Kodak 1888’s $1 billion (with a ‘B’) in sales.

Being so old, there isn’t much clear info on when it started.

All we really know for sure is four things.

  1. The original founder’s name is Charles Foster Hathaway.
  2. The name of the company Ellerton bought was C.F. Hathaway and Co., located in Maine. 
  3. Their main business was manufacturing shirts for men and boys.
  4. In 1951, Ellerton was the president of this company and made Ogilvy an offer.

An Offer Ogilvy Couldn’t Refuse

In his book Confessions of An Advertising Man, Ogilvy wrote about his meeting with Ellerton.

Like I said, Ellerton was not the usual Ogilvy & Mather client. 

He didn’t have a large budget. He didn’t have a recognisable brand name. But because of this, he had a respect for Ogilvy that many of his clients didn’t.

All it took was a few sentences.

Here’s what he said to Ogilvy:

“We are about to start advertising. Our account will be less than $30,000 a year. If you will take it on, I will make you a promise: I will never change a word of your copy.”

That’s it.

Complete. Creative. Control.

Ellerton got one of the most powerful men in advertising to take on his small account.

And Ogilvy created what would be the most famous campaign he’s ever done.

The Man In The Hathaway Shirt

The Image

In the story of how Cody sold $70 million in English courses to native English speakers, we have the greatest headline in all of advertising.

In this story, we have arguably the greatest image in all of advertising.


It is very a small but noticeable thing. It is unusual. It makes you ask questions.

Why is this man wearing an eyepatch? What happened to his eye? Who is he?

If you’ve ever had the misfortune of getting hurt and wearing a cast or bandage, you know what happens. People notice and ask about it because there’s a story there.

Similar idea here.

In both of his books, Ogilvy mentions a book written by Harold Rudoph.

This book is called Attention and Interest Factors in Advertising. Inside, Harold says photographs with ‘story appeal’ really grab people’s attention.

So Ogilvy brainstormed. He came up with 18 different ways to add ‘story appeal’ to the upcoming photo shoot. The eyepatch was idea number 18. And it was thrown out.

The photo shoot for this ad was to be held on a wet Tuesday morning.

On the way to the photo shoot, Ogilvy stopped at a drugstore and bought the eyepatch. It cost $1.50 ($15 today) so he figured why not.

At the end of the photo shoot, Ogilvy asked if they would take a few photographs of the model in the eyepatch. Just in case.

See, the model in this shoot was Baron George Wrangell. The baron had both eyes and clear 20/20 vision. The eyepatch was only just a prop.

The result?

An image so iconic, it was written about in newspapers and magazines worldwide. It created a national brand almost overnight and for nearly zero cost.

Like other great advertising ideas, it got parodied and copied.

Here’s a cartoon sketch from the New Yorker released that year.

Cartoon sketch in The New Yorker, 1951

And you have the ad that Ogilvy became most famous for.

Remember how Steinway used the same 5 words to dominate for nearly 100 years?

Hathaway kept using the iconic “man in the Hathaway shirt” idea for about two decades.

As the campaign continued, Ogilvy showed the Hathaway man in many different situations. He wrote that he chose things that he would have liked to do himself. Things like:

  • Conducting the New York Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall,
  • Playing the oboe
  • Fencing
  • Sailing
  • Copying a Goya at the Metropolitan Museum

And more.

If that kinda sounds familiar, you could say he’s the predecessor to Dos Equis’ “The Most Interesting Man in the World.”

The Headline

Very simple. But also very smart.

First, it mentions Hathaway in the headline.

John Caples notes that the fastest way to make a business famous is to include its name in the headline. This was exactly what happened to Hathaway.

This headline, under the image, made a 116-year old company nobody knew about into a household name.

Second, it mentions the man wearing the shirt.

Ogilvy says nothing about the man in the body copy.

But this first ad mentions the man because that is the most interesting thing on the page.

The First and Second Paragraphs

AMERICAN MEN are beginning to realise that it is ridiculous to buy good suits and then spoil the effect by wearing an ordinary, mass-produced shirt. Hence the growing popularity of HATHAWAY shirts, which are in a class by themselves.

HATHAWAY shirts wear infinitely longer — a matter of years. They make you look younger and more distinguished, because of the subtle way HATHAWAY cut collars. The whole shirt is tailored more generously, and is therefore more comfortable. The tails are longer, and stay in your trousers. The buttons are mother-of-pearl. Even the stitching has an ante-bellum elegance about it.

We have social proof in the first paragraph.

Then in the second paragraph, we have a number of benefits:

  • Longevity
  • Improved appearance
  • Physical comfort
  • Construction
  • Quality

Each one captured in a sentence or two.

Each one using plenty of adjectives for emotional impact.

Notice that the improved appearance claim is the only one that has an explanation.

“Huh? How can a shirt make me look younger and more distinguished?”

It gives a “reason why” by mentioning the subtle way HATHAWAY cut collars. And this is to quickly satisfy the logical part of the reader’s brain and move on.

The Third Paragraph

Above all, HATHAWAY make their shirts of remarkable fabrics, collected from the four corners of the earth—Viyella and Aertex from England, woolen taffeta from Scotland, Sea Island cotton from the West Indies, hand-woven madras from India, broadcloth from Manchester, linen batiste from Paris, hand-blocked silks from England, exclusive cottons from the best weavers in America. You will get a great deal of quiet satisfaction out of wearing shirts which are in such impeccable taste.

Lots of romantic copy here.

Ogilvy lists many different far-away locations: England, Scotland, West Indies, Paris.

The last sentence promises an emotional benefit (‘quiet satisfaction’) to the reader.

Hathaway shirts are also heavily upscaled. They’re not just shirts. They’re a wearable work of craftsmanship. Made from the best materials around the world.

The Fourth Paragraph

HATHAWAY shirts are made by a small company of dedicated craftsmen in the little town of Waterville, Maine. They have been at it, man and boy, for one hundred and fifteen years.

It is common for businesses to want to look bigger than they are. But bigger often implies mass-produced.

Pointing out how small the company is makes it seem like a hidden treasure. Then there is the generational aspect. The 115-years of history. Dedicated craftsman in a little town.

Ogilvy doesn’t have to say they’re a hidden gem likely the best in the world at what they do. You start thinking it by yourself.

The Call To Action

At better stores everywhere, or write C. F. HATHAWAY, Waterville, Maine, for the name of your nearest store. In New York, telephone MU 9-4157. Prices from $5.50 to $25.00.

Love the little addition of being at “better” stores everywhere. It adds a sense of exclusivity.

And like any good call-to-action, there are instructions in case it’s NOT at their local store.

There’s a simple mention of price at the end. Only once you’ve already been sold on buying it.

The Results

The first-run of this ad appeared in The New Yorker magazine. It cost $3,176 ($30k today) for a full-page spread.

The results were instant. Hathaway sold out their stock of shirts in a week.

The results were so explosive that even Ogilvy was surprised.

He writes that he wished he got famous for something “more serious” than buying an eyepatch.

After eight years of this campaign, Ellerton Jette sold this company to a Boston financier. And this company was resold six months later to Warnaco Group for millions of dollars.

Key Takeaways

In your business…

  • You can sometimes negotiate on terms other than price. Ellerton got Ogilvy to work on his business because he understood that he didn’t have money. So he offered something else that mattered. Likewise, in your negotiations with vendors, suppliers, partners, employees, etc. There are some things people would happily agree to even if you offered a lower price.
  • Be ballsy. It can be scary to ask. Do it anyway. The worst that happens is they say no and that shouldn’t be a big deal.
  • Trust your copywriter. I don’t mean you must accept everything from a copywriter like Ellerton did. After all, not all of us are David Ogilvy. But it does mean that you should trust they know what they’re doing and not be a hard ass about it. You’ll get better work that way.

In your copy…

  • Use images to tell a story. A simple way of doing this is to put something in the picture that will make someone ask, “What is that about? What happened there?” And if you can’t do this for the product/service, do this for a person USING the product or service. Think of the Old Spice Man, the Most Interesting Man In the World, and so on.
  • Trust your instincts. The eyepatch was the last idea Ogilvy and his team came up with. It was very easy for Ogilvy to just ignore his hunch and drive straight to the photo shoot. And I have no doubts that Hathaway shirts still would have sold better. But it also cost almost nothing to try it out anyway. And look at what happened.
  • Use research. Ogilvy was a very big believer in research. The entire concept of the man in the Hathaway shirt came from advertising research done by Harold Rudoph. Advertising is as much science as it is art. And it is better to start with the science, then create the art.
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