Sunday, August 21, 2016

Selling an AGA

Confession time: I hate Mad Men. Well, maybe that's not quite accurate. I hardly watched any of it (despite being tremendously in love with the art direction of the show) mostly because (and, forgive me, those of you who loved it) every time I did, I got the impression that I was supposed to finish up an episode by clapping myself on the back for having the wisdom of being born for the present era rather than one in which Neanderthals roamed the earth. Your mileage may vary. In fact, given the show's success, your mileage most certainly does vary. And I'm happy to assume I'm the one not getting it.

But another confession: I read reviews of movies I haven't seen yet and of books I haven't read yet and of shows I just didn't like. (And don't get me started on reading one-star reviews on Goodreads which is where amateur writers really shine--passion and verve, it's all there.) It was in one of these critiques of Mad Men that mentioned David Ogilvy, sometimes called The Father of Advertising.

Betties, when an internet rabbit hole opens up at my very feet, what can I do but strap on the old parachute and jump? One of Ogilvy's most iconic sayings is "The consumer is not a moron. She is your wife. Don't insult her intelligence..." (Oh, if only ads had stuck to that maxim with variations on 'husband', 'daughter' and 'teenaged son'.) And here's an excerpt from his wiki article:

His studies were not successful, however, and he left Oxford for Paris in 1931 where he became an apprentice chef in the Hotel Majestic. After a year, he returned to Scotland and started selling AGA cooking stoves, door-to-door. His success at this marked him out to his employer, who asked him to write an instruction manual, The Theory and Practice of Selling the AGA Cooker, for the other salesmen. Thirty years later, Fortune magazine editors called it the finest sales instruction manual ever written.

"It can heat up beans and toast before you've finished
crying over your lost boyfriend and when a vast Dutch
doctor should happen by and look longingly at
you for food, the AGA will be your greatest support."

Did you catch that? An AGA salesman! I highly recommend reading through the whole manual--it really is that good. Here are some highlights:

  • Dress quietly and shave well. Do not wear a bowler hat.
  • The more she talks the better, and if you can make her laugh you are several points up…….
  •  Learn to recognize vegetarians on sight. It is painful indeed to gush over roasting and grilling to a drooping face which has not enjoyed the pleasure of a beefsteak for several years.
  • Casseroles and stews – luxuries where the gas or electricity bill has to be remembered – become the master passion of the AGA cook. Stock, ham, and porridge cook all night long and lose their terrors for the dyspeptic. Cure the world of stomach ache and heartburn – what a mission!…..
  • Doctors will admire your perspicacity if you tell them that….. if a case keeps them long after the normal hour for dinner they will get an unspoilt meal on their return to an AGA house….. There is no end to the special appeal AGA has for every conceivable class and profession. Think it out.
  •  A deadly serious demonstration is bound to fail. If you can’t make a lady laugh, you certainly cannot make her buy.

And finally, just because it is SO interesting, his wiki article also says:

Also during World War II David Ogilvy was a notable alumnus of the secret Camp X, located near the towns of Whitby and Oshawa in Ontario, Canada. According to an article on the: "It was there he mastered the power of propaganda before becoming king of Madison Avenue. Although Ogilvy was trained in sabotage and close combat, he was ultimately tasked with projects that included successfully ruining the reputation of businessmen who were supplying the Nazis with industrial materials."


  1. Ever true. I will buy more from one who listens and makes me laugh about convenience and time saving than from one who challenges me to become a better cook and mother through good cooking.

    So talented and he could have used his talent for evil, but didn't. It's a good thing.

  2. I am such a nerd, I can not wait to curl up with this AGA sales manual this evening!

  3. A deadly serious AND LONG demonstration is bound to fail. Please keep it short!

  4. I just stumbled across your blog and I'm SO glad! I've been a Betty fan for years. I sold my collection (I was up to 89 books) years ago to lady with a sick mom who loved the books. Fast forward 10 years and I'm in the process of rereading them through the local library or buying digital copies off Amazon. I must admit I fell for the idea of an AGA all because of Betty and would have loved to have one in my kitchen. Your tale of the advertising man writing the AGA manual made me laugh. Again, so glad I found you guys!