U.S. News

Ultimate Ad Contest: Selling a Red Brick on YouTube

Stuart Elliott|The New York Times

An agency whose founder went door to door to sell stoves before he got into advertising—and was so good at it that the company asked him to write a manual for the other salesmen—is creating a contest that celebrates selling.

OgilvyOne is using its YouTube channel to search for the world's greatest salesperson. Are you the One?
Source: youtube.com

OgilvyOne Worldwide, part of the Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide division of WPP, is tipping its hat to David Ogilvy by sponsoring the contest, which is to begin this week. The contest will search for what is being immodestly described as “the world’s greatest salesperson.”

The goal is “recreating the noble art of ka-ching,” said Rory Sutherland, vice chairman for the British operations of Ogilvy & Mather, based in London.

“There’s an interesting case to be made that advertising has strayed too far from the business of salesmanship,” Mr. Sutherland said, which is unfortunate because it can be “a good test of how well you understand people and your creativity.”

The search for the stellar seller will not be conducted door to door but rather, reflecting the changes since Mr. Ogilvy peddled Aga stoves in Scotland in the 1930s, on a branded channel on YouTube (youtube.com/ogilvy). The contest will also use other social media like Facebook and Twitter. (Check out Ogilvy's YouTube channel with contest details here).

No sales experience will be required to enter the contest, which will be conducted in 15 countries, among them Australia, Brazil, Britain, Canada, China, France, Germany, India and the United States. The prize is a three-month job at OgilvyOne—called a fellowship by the agency —during which the winner will help OgilvyOne write a guide to selling in the 21st century.

“Salesmanship has been lost in the pursuit of art or the dazzle of technology,” said Brian Fetherstonhaugh, chairman and chief executive at OgilvyOne in New York. “It needs to be rekindled in this postrecession environment, as consumers are making more informed and deliberate choices.”

At the same time, technologies like TiVo and spam filters are putting “the consumer in control,” Mr. Fetherstonhaugh said, so “the salesperson needs to get invited in.”

Product Pitch 101

That means selling is “less about intrusion and repetition,” he added, “and more about engagement and evangelizing.”

Contest entrants, who must be at least 18 years old, will submit to the YouTube brand channel video clips that can run from one to two minutes. To ensure the playing field is level, all submissions are to be in English and entrants are to submit sales pitches for the same product.

And to make things more interesting, the product is as prosaic as they come: a common, everyday red brick.

“If you can sell a red brick, maybe you can sell anything,” said Mat Zucker, executive creative director for the OgilvyOne New York office, who came up with the contest.

The brick was chosen because it is “something ubiquitous in every country” in which the contest will be conducted, he added, and “won’t cost a lot of money” for entrants to buy for their video submissions.

(Although perhaps a more compelling way to sell a brick is not to show it.)

Those involved in developing the contest considered something more exciting as the subject, said Mish Fletcher, worldwide marketing director at OgilvyOne, but “the iPad does not need ‘the world’s greatest salesperson.’ ”

Besides, Mr. Zucker said, laughing, “Who can get their hands on an iPad?”

Mr. Sutherland said that it might have been “quite interesting to have something like a fax machine” or, borrowing a plot point from an episode during the third season of the TV series “Mad Men,” a Western Union telegram.

Videos will be accepted on the YouTube brand channel from Tuesday through May 16. A panel of judges—composed of executives from OgilvyOne, Ogilvy & Mather, I.B.M. and Salesforce.com —will winnow the entries to potential finalists, guided by a public vote on the brand channel; they will use criteria like creativity and effectiveness.

Those potential finalists will be interviewed and asked to complete a written assignment. Three will win trips to Cannes, France, to make presentations at a seminar on June 21, to be hosted by Mr. Sutherland, at the 57th annual Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival.

The three finalists will make a sales pitch for an actual product. “We’re in discussions with one of our clients at the moment to use one of their products,” Ms. Fletcher said.

The winner of the job at OgilvyOne will be determined by a panel of judges and a vote by the audience at the seminar.

Technology and Technique

The contest’s organizers said they were eager to see the approaches the entries would take.

“We may get some very traditional, old-school, beat-you-over-the-head-with-it” types of submissions, Mr. Fetherstonhaugh said, along with those indicative of “a new kind of selling” that tries to be “more collaborative, more engaging” with consumers.

Mr. Sutherland said he was looking forward to “the more mischievous ideas” among the entries.

“We hope it to be both fun and serious,” he said of the contest, “making a serious point in a fun way.”

The cost of the contest has not been tallied; the time of the executives and employees taking part will probably account for the largest expense.

“If we believe in selling, and our founder was a salesman, we have a special responsibility to reassert the importance of sales,” Mr. Zucker said.

Mr. Ogilvy, who died in 1999, expressed his philosophies in colorful ways. Once, referring to his stove-selling days, he said: “No sale, no commission. No commission, no eat. That made an impression on me.”