We all have role models, some real, some imagined, some based on in-the-flesh interactions, some based on an intense admiration and study of the role model's ways and means. 

For Jim Somers, VP of marketing at Join.me, a collaboration tool created by Boston-based LogMeIn, that role model is the one and only David Ogilvy, founder of the legendary Ogilvy & Mather advertising firm. Though Somers never got the chance to meet Ogilvy (who passed away at age 88 in 1999), Somers did spend four formative years in his mid-20s as an account manager at O&M's New York City headquarters between 1993 and 1996. It was during that time that Ogilvy became Somers's role model--a leader and a thinker whose beliefs would shape and inform Somers' career. 

In an era venerating throwback programs like Mad Men, Ogilvy has garnered plenty of acclaim as one of several "real life Mad Men" of the 1950s and 1960s, a titan with a flair for creating ads that mixed drama with hardcore research and client empathy. As a participant in O&M's training program for account managers, Somers was "inculcated in David's many philosophies around advertising, marketing, business, and life," he says.

More than 20 years later, which lessons have stuck with Somers? One of them is Ogilvy's belief that creative efforts need to have "a wink and a smile." From Somers's perspective, this IBM ad from several years ago, which was made by O&M, epitomizes this approach. Somers says it's the best 21st-century example of a prominent television ad containing Ogilvy's creative DNA. (Somers adds that the famous Dos Equis ads featuring "the most interesting man in the world" are a close second.)



The marketing lesson here is straightforward: Make your point, but make it fast--and make it interesting. Create a tense conflict whose outcome is interesting to viewers. And don't take yourself so seriously. 

Another lesson Somers learned from his study of Ogilvy is about the importance of doing hardcore homework on your clients--to the point where you know their innermost needs almost as well as they do. Somers notes that Ogilvy's time spent working for Gallup, the legendary research company, was an enormous influence on his thinking. Indeed, the O&M bio of Ogilvy notes that while at Gallup, where he worked in the late 1930s and early 1940s, he learned the importance of "emphasizing meticulous research methods and adherence to reality."

Recently, Somers has applied Ogilvy's tenets to his work at Join.me. Years ago, he notes, Join.me was an exciting alternative to GoToMeeting and WebEx--it was a web site where you could hold instant online meetings without installing or downloading anything. But somewhere along the line--as both incumbents and new competitors allowed anyone to host free, no-download, online meetings--Join.me "lost our mojo and lost our sense of self," he says.

In his quest to return Join.me to the swagger of its salad days, Somers has invoked Ogilvy's principles. For example, he says, the company conducted tons of research about how to appeal to Millennials in the online meeting space. The result is a rearticulated brand message, emphasizing that today's workplace is anyplace--and that anyone, even the youngest person in the (virtual) office, can take charge. The company's new slogan--"Show work who's boss"--is a reflection of this rebranding with an eye on Millennials. The company is also not shying away from giving its non-paying, "freemium" users even more features, having learned--as anyone researching Millennial spending habits learns--that Millennials love a bargain.  

In addition, you can find the cheekiness of that IBM ad in some of Join.me's new messaging. Beneath "show work who's boss" on the company's home page, the copy reads: "Collaborate instantly with free screen sharing, unlimited audio, and ridiculously simple video conferencing. No registration required." In the exuberance of a phrase like "ridiculously simple," you can spot a linguistic attempt to emotionally connect with the customer. In making the promises of "no registration" and "unlimited audio," you can see key insights into the bargain-loving, target customer.

Though Join.me unveiled these changes only earlier this week, it believes that, so far, the approach is working. "Our engagement on the web site was up after one day between 5 and 10 percent," Somers says. "And when you have 20,000 new users a day coming to Join.me, that scale can be significant." 

Given the impact, you wonder what Somers might say to Ogilvy today, if it were somehow possible for them to have a conversation. "I'd thank him for giving me the foundation for what defines me as a marketer," Somers says. "And then I'd walk away giving him a 'wink and a smile.'"