Discovering the world’s greatest (advertising) salesperson — one red brick at a time


In  2010, advertising agency Ogilvy set up a competition to find the “world’s greatest salesperson”  The challenge:  Create a YouTube video to sell a . . . red brick.

The agency received 234 submissions, and after narrowing down the finalists, selected this gem from Todd Herman, who received an offer for a paid fellowship at Ogilvy.

Here is the successful entry:

In case you are wondering, the website is real, where you can actually “buy” the red brick to support Haiti relief.  The EBay listing has been taken down, but in an Edmonton Journal article, Herman is quoted as saying he “sold” the brick three times — but the clients didn’t actually expect him to deliver it to them.

EDMONTON — The salesman in Todd Herman was born when he was a little boy walking along the railway tracks with his cousin near the family ranch outside Medicine Hat.

Scattered throughout the tracks’ rock bed were gold-coloured rocks of varying sizes.

Herman and his cousin hauled a bunch of the pyrite to the side of the road and set up a cardboard sign that read: “Big gold $25. Little gold $15.”

An older couple came by and plunked down $15 for a piece of the mineral, often called fool’s gold. Herman and his cousin spent their hard-earned profits at the local joke store.

Now, the 34-year-old Edmontonian is in the running to be the world’s greatest salesman, after a friend tweeted him about a contest by advertising giant OgilvyOne to sell one red brick. The friend knows Herman is a huge fan of the company’s founder, David Ogilvy.

“As soon as I saw it, I knew immediately how I would sell a red brick,” said Herman, who owns two online businesses. One is a sports psychology and mental toughness coaching company called other is, which helps local businesses use the Internet to market their companies.

“My idea was if you can be first in a category, you usually win. So I wanted to be first in the video category because I thought I can dictate the bar that other people have to try to reach and the terms,” he said.

Within eight hours of learning of the contest, Herman had the two-minute video shot, uploaded to OgilvyOne and a website created. He sold the brick, bought at Home Depot for 61 cents, on EBay using PayPal and donated the proceeds to aid the rebuilding of Haiti. He has actually sold the brick three times for a grand total of $53.91. Those who have bought the brick have told him not to bothering shipping it because they just want to donate to a worthy cause.

“I think the hallmark of a good salesperson is taking advantage of opportunity,” said Herman, who believes the world rewards momentum.

In his video, he pitches a single, red brick as a symbol of something that can used as the first step in building something great, which is why all the proceeds are donated to the rebuilding of Haiti.

Herman said much of his philosophy when it comes to the art of selling comes from being a voracious reader of motivational mentors such as Ogilvy, Tony Robbins, Jim Rohn and Steven Pressfield, whose book The War of Art, he carries with him all the time.

“People always think of sales as the in-your-face-used-car salesman. But selling happens all the time. Really great selling is never noticed,” Herman said.

“You should feel like you just bought something, not like you just got sold.”

Being a great salesperson is also about communication and people skills. “And sometimes it is about just shutting up and really listening to the person speaking,” he said, laughing.

As one of the three finalists selected out of more than 230 entries from 12 countries, Herman will travel to France for the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival on June 21. The three finalists will do a two-minute pitch live on stage of a software product from one of OgilvyOne’s current clients and be judged by an audience.

The winner of the coveted “World’s Greatest Salesperson” will receive a three-month fellowship with Ogilvy-One to help craft the sales guide to the 21st century.

“We’ve been blown away by the creativity, enthusiasm and digital savvy that we’ve encountered on our quest to find the World’s Greatest Salesperson,” Mat Zucker, OgilvyOne’s executive creative director in New York said in a release.

“Choosing only three finalists from such an impressive field has been the most challenging part for us so far — but what impressed us the most about the finalists was their approach to the changing nature of sales,” Zucker said.

Herman is looking forward to getting a chance to experience the Cannes advertising festival.

“I’m just more thrilled because it is Ogilvy’s namesake advertising agency and I just think the world of it,” he said.

The winning video submissions by each of the finalists can be viewed at