The Time David Ogilvy Mailed People Live Carrier Pigeons To Sell Private Jets

It’s hard to write a message that’ll be read and responded to when you have no leverage. Yet this is the world marketers conquer every day. So if we have leverage it should be easy, right? Hardly. It still takes a little magic. David Ogilvy has plenty of examples of times they broke the attention barrier and got people to take action from a cold start.

Here are two classics from Ogilvy On Advertising. The first is about the time they mailed live carrier pigeons to people who might want to buy a private jet. The second is about selling cooking stoves to private school headmasters by writing letters in Greek and Latin.

Prospects for a new Cessna Citation business jet were surprised when we sent them live carrier pigeons, with an invitation to take a free ride in a Citation. The recipient was asked to release our carrier pigeon with his address tied to its leg. Some of the recipients ate the pigeons, but several returned alive, and at least one Citation was sold–for $ 600,000.

My brother Francis wrote a letter in Greek to the headmasters of private schools, selling cooking stoves. When some wrote back that they could not read Greek, he sent them another letter–in Latin. This produced orders.

What’s so great about these examples is they tell the recipient, “We know you’re different,” “We respect your specialness,” and, “Our product isn’t for everyone, but we wouldn’t have pulled this stunt if we didn’t think it was for you.” Yes, they’re extreme, but they work for a reason. If we want to capture their attention, we had better lay a worthy trap.

In most of our work, we have some leverage to work with. If there’s a message worth getting across, it’s up to us to find a way to get it heard. We might not go the carrier pigeon or Latin route, but we can find ways, in gesture or in language, to make our offer attention grabbing.

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