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The Modern-Day Mad Men: Otto Bell

In honor of Mad Men’s valiant return last night, Kempt is proud to present the first in a series of profiles of some of the most thought-provoking individuals working in the ad game today—real-life Drapers, if you will (minus the brown booze and nooners.)

“The consumer is not a moron; she is your wife.” —David Ogilvy

Legendary adman David Ogilvy believed the best ads are derived from relatable, personal experiences. More than anything else, he said, consumers respond to stories about themselves. (If this sounds familiar, that’s because Draper masterfully employed a similar argument here, here and here.)

So, what’s in a story?

In 1949, Hathaway Dress Shirts was looking to add to their market share and, as such, enlisted David Ogilvy—who agreed to take the account on one condition: creative carte blanche. To demonstrate the power of “the story,” Ogilvy photographed a Hathaway shirt on a nondescript, middle-aged man wearing an eye patch. Nothing was wrong with the man’s eye—the patch was purely a prop—but consumers wrote their own conclusion to the man’s story, and it was unanimously positive. After all, a well-to-do, one-eyed aristocrat had to have a story, right? By the end of the week, every shirt had been sold.

“The grandfather” would be pleased to know the spirit of storytelling is stronger than ever at Ogilvy, thanks in no small part to a young man who, at least on paper, is poised to continue following in some very familiar (and impressive) footsteps...

(left) David Ogilvy; (right) Otto Bell; via Marc Lemoine

By just about any measure, Otto Bell is a dashing, impressive young Englishman who, at the age of 30, has managed to write nearly an identical record to David Ogilvy. “It was chance, really,” says Otto on the roof of the agency’s relatively new NYC digs on 11th Ave and 47th Street. “We both won scholarships to Fettes, the famous boarding school in Edinburgh. We both went to uni at Oxford, though he read history while I read English literature. We both dabbled in direct sales, and ultimately we both came to New York looking to start our careers in earnest. I’m happy to come to work every day.”

And the better part of Midtown Manhattan knows precisely when Otto gets to work every morning, thanks to a jet-black Harley-Davidson he affectionately calls “Betty” (and a passer-by unaffectionately calls “Shut the fuck up, asshole!”).

via Marc Lemoine

Though he possesses the class and manner of a Downton Abbey footman, you’ll never hear Otto apologize for Betty—and for good reason: “I grew up on a horse farm just outside Alnwick, in Northumberland [Northern England]. A postcard of a place, all animals and castles hard by the border with Scotland. Ol’ Betty here is the closest I can get to feeling at home.”

And just like that, something that would deem just about any other man in the city an overcompensator... kind of fits brilliantly on Otto Bell.

Inside the office, Otto was tapped by OgilvyEntertainment president Doug Scott to serve as creative director of the agency’s branded content division, which under their management has swelled to 23 employees. When asked what exactly they do over there at OgilvyEntertainment, he smiles. “Instead of interrupting people with 30 second commercials, we attract them by presenting longer, more nuanced content.”

DuPont, for example, wanted to promote itself as a thought leader around global concerns like fuel, protection and food. “So we set off to some of the most remote corners of the world,” he explains, “with the goal of taking the complex, weighty work DuPont does at societal level and humanizing it through real-life examples, like building houses in Mexico, roads in Peru and prosthetics in El Salvador. All in all, Otto’s team has produced over 15 shorts in collaboration with BBC World News that are broadcast as interstitials on the news program Horizons.

And yet Otto’s smoothest, most Draper-esque play to date occurred well outside the office, roughly 20 blocks south at the Soho House, where he served on the admissions committee during the great banker-purge of 2010, when over 1,000 memberships were revoked after an audit revealed that they had misrepresented creative credentials—a requirement to join.

As a result, the roof deck is decidedly a more peaceful place to end the day—and we do so happily and patiently, now and again raising our glasses to toast a story that, for all intents and purposes, is just getting under way.

For more Modern-Day Mad Men, check out Kempt’s Ian Schafer profile.