Ad Breakdown: The Man in the Hathaway Shirt

Lewis Folkard

Lewis Folkard

Suffolk-based conversion copywriter.

Preview of David Ogilvy's The Man in the Hathaway Shirt

Here we are… ad breakdown number 1: David Ogilvy’s ‘The Man in the Hathaway Shirt’.

The breakdown went live on LinkedIn some time ago, so I’m revisiting it here and adding in some extras. Let’s begin.

“I believe you can make me into a big client of yours if you take on the job”, said Ellerton Jette, Hathaway’s president. 

A small business at the time, Hathaway hadn’t advertised before, and they had big goals. They wanted to grow and compete with other nationally recognisable brands. And with only $30,000 to spend, Jette knew he had some convincing to do if Ogilvy was to say yes.

He knew Ogilvy was used to working with bigger brands (and much bigger budgets). But Jette’s enthusiasm and confidence in Ogilvy rubbed off, and he made a promise no advertiser could turn down…

He promised he wouldn’t change a single word of copy and would never fire the agency. (lol!)

Ogilvy said yes, and within a week of the campaign going live in New York, every Hathaway shirt in the city had sold out. Not bad, eh?

So, let’s take a closer look at why.

The Art

When you look at the ad, what’s the first thing that jumps out at you? The eye patch. Allegedly, this was just an impromptu decision on the way to the shoot to add more curiosity. But it worked wonders for Hathaway.

You see, at that point, Hathaway had been in business for over a century, yet their market was failing to notice them. The eye patch, albeit not a serious thought at the time, ended up helping combat that. 

It brings the reader into the ad by catching their eye (pun intended) and creates “story appeal”. 

Note how the headline supports this too. It’s not benefit-driven. Nor funny. Instead, it works with the art to further build curiosity and create a sense of mystery. The reader needs to find out who this man is – and why he’s wearing an eye patch.

The contrast between Baron George Wrangell’s posing and the busy tailors in the background focuses the attention on Wrangell. It makes him look important and feeds this luxury, aristocratic feeling – a feeling we see throughout.

The Copy and Structure

(Because the ad copy isn’t clear, I’ve written it out for you.)

Okay, so let’s have a look at the structure. Intentional or not, this is how I think it’s split. 

Obviously, the ad did very well. So, I’m cautious when I criticise… but I would have liked to have seen more ‘emotional stirring’ – you know leaning into the story more. It brings you into the ad – great – but it feels like we lose the sense of story after the first line. 

And this is (maybe) a missed opportunity for a deeper emotional connection with the reader. 

Paragraph 1

What I particularly like here is the ‘bad guy’ – “mass-produced shirts”. It does a couple of things. One, it makes it easier to channel pains, disqualify other options and better position Hathaway. Simple.

And second, it helps create an ‘us vs them’ dynamic. And this is a really interesting point. Let me explain.

In this kind of dynamic, the reader feels pressured into picking a side. And as a result, falls into an evolutionary behaviour pattern. This ‘side’ is new to us, like unknown ‘territory’, and we’re very vulnerable and easily influenced here because we’re not sure how to fit in.

What should we think? How should we behave? Who can we trust? In this state of ‘confusion’, we look around for guidance – for someone to tell us how to feel and behave. And being the creatures of habit we are, the behaviours, thoughts and opinions we find, stick. And we’ll continue to act in accordance with and uphold them moving forward.

So if we come back to the ad, the side we’re led into taking is that “mass-produced shirts” are bad. And just by reading on, we subconsciously signal this commitment to ourselves. 

Before reading the ad, some readers might be wearing mass-produced shirts – and see nothing wrong with it. But now they’ve been led into opposing it. And they now feel the urge to honour their new beliefs and hold themselves to higher standards, choosing Hathaway shirts instead.

The key part of this dynamic is that it’s the copywriter who dictates the reader’s new opinions (from the ‘vulnerable’ state). The copywriter can then leverage them when asking for action later.

Okay, next. There’s a good example of social proof in this section too. And with Hathaway shirts not only growing in popularity but also being “in a class by themselves”, there’s a strong desire for the reader to not be left behind and keep up with appearances. A very persuasive desire.

Paragraph 2

Here we come into some logical benefits that help the reader justify their purchase (if they choose to buy) later. It also comes back to what I mentioned in the previous section. Specifically, these are the beliefs and behaviours that Ogilvy is guiding the reader into adopting.

The main appeal is quite broad: to “look younger and more distinguished”. 

And Ogilvy explains how it’s achieved – through cut collars, longer tails etc.

There’s also an element of ‘switching’ and disqualifying some competition – e.g. “The tails are longer and stay in your trousers”. This is suggesting other mass-produced shirts don’t do this, and Hathaway become a more obvious choice.

Paragraph 3

This paragraph gives a lot of specific proof and aims to change the reader’s perception of Hathaway. There’s an overarching aura of “elegance”, which feeds through from the art too. 

I want you to pay special attention to how the fabric details are written. Ogilvy intentionally puts them all in one sentence. This heightens their impact and almost overwhelms the reader. In other words, it makes them seem more impressive.

Paragraph 4 & CTA

Two short paragraphs to end. Paragraph 4 focuses on building trust with the reader. We see words and phrases like “small”, “little town”, and “man and boy”, which not only signal relatability and great service but also give a feeling of desirability. These phrases help make the shirts feel special because “dedicated craftsmen” from a small town are making them. 

There might also be a subtle pull at the ego at play here too – Ogilvy opens the door to the reader helping a small (but luxurious) business. And all the virtue signalling that stems from that.

Ogilvy also proves their credibility by mentioning their 120 years of experience.

Now onto the close. 

Ogilvy reinforces the premium feel here through scarcity. He states they can be found “at better stores everywhere”. And what I like is that, up until now, the price hasn’t been mentioned. Including it here may help reduce price anxiety and qualify the prospect. To some, it may even make Hathaway seem more desirable and sought after.

(I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure the price wasn’t always mentioned in other variations of this ad over the years. Once Hathaway were more established, perhaps they didn’t feel the need to?)

Other Observations

A couple other points I’d like to bring to your attention: the language and the regular use of “Hathaway”.

First, the language. Notice how some of the language throughout could be simplified further. Today, there’s this nonsense pressure to always use the simplest language possible. And if the simpler language conveys less value, why would we use it? Whatever language our intended audience uses, we should use too.

There’s also another factor at play here. The “fancier” language helps reinforce the luxurious feel of Hathaway. It makes them feel more sought after as we’re always ‘looking up’ the societal ladder and associate this language with wealth and class.

And then, finally, the use of “Hathaway”. 

We know Ogilvy liked to include the business’ name in the headline, but I think there’s a bigger reason at play here – a reason that explains his frequent use throughout the body copy. 

After seeing the shots with the eye patch, Ogilvy knew he’d found something special. And when you find something special like that, protect it. There’s nothing stopping Hathaway’s neighbour from copying the same concept (apart from shame maybe…). They could push it harder and reap more rewards.

So, by mentioning Hathaway throughout, Ogilvy not only helps with brand awareness but also ties in the concept with them. He stops competitors from stealing the idea.

And that’s your lot! 

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