Ogilvy on Advertising is a 1983 classic text on advertising which a copywriting client recommend I read. Ogilvy writes that he is “codifying experience”. I’m glad I listened to Ben Coverdale of March One.
The purpose of this post is to codify my confirmed learning on reading his book. This is learning that has stood the test of time. It remains supremely relevant today.
David Ogilvy (1911-1999) in 1949 founded Ogilvy & Mather. It became one of the world’s largest advertising agencies. In 1989 it was sold for US$864 million to the WPP Group. Ogilvy on Advertising was one of his two books, the first being Confessions of an Advertising Man published in 1963.
Reading the first 90 pages, and skimming the rest, for me confirmed advertising and more broadly marketing common sense. It is what I’ve learned over decades in both research and personal experience. The 30 points below are almost all from those first 90 pages. The rest of the book covers advertising job roles and niche areas where advertising played a role up to 1983.
What is marketing?
- Good marketing sells the most, it is about customer acquisition and requires research much more so than creativity. If advertising does not sell it is not creative. Amen.
- If you want action, communicate verbally.
Ranking content by its engagement and selling ability
- People look at images first, then the headline, then the captions under any photos, and then the body text.
- It’s the 10% or so of people who get to and read body text that are your prospects, please them.
- Make the product or service the hero, not you and your image or your claimed superiority to competitors. Still, create certainty about your offering. In image making a close-up makes the product a hero.
- Photos that work hardest arouse curiosity.
- People easily understand and find fascinating before and after photos.
- Illustrate the outcome of your offering or its benefits, not its ingredients or the methodology of how you get to the outcome.
- Headlines work when the promise is obvious, eg How to win friends and influence people.
- In headlines try to include the name of your offering to make the message clear.
- Headlines should telegraph what you want to say.
- Headlines and body copy need not be short. Long can work just as well, sometimes better.
- Headlines should not be in upper case.
- Copy works if it is news, provides helpful information, provides a solution to a problem, has testimonials, demonstrates the benefit of the offering, or addresses the need of the audience.
- Copywriters are difficult to find. They need to have obsessive curiosity and have an ability to write in plain language with simple words. They are often above-average in their sense of humour and ambition. Recruit them as a prime target.
- Write for individuals, not for anonymous crowds.
- In an ad identify your brand early and often and make a promise early on.
- Limit the first paragraph to a maximum of 11 words.
- Don’t scorn tried-and-true words like amazing, introducing, now and suddenly.
- Take care with analogies, they are widely misunderstood.
- Present your case in terms of the self-interest of your target reader, listener or viewer.
- Always try to include the price of your offering.
- Drop capitals in opening paragraphs of copy increase readership.
- For a comparison against competitors devise a demonstration that illustrates differentiation.
- In direct mail long copy sells more than short copy and testimonials increase credibility. Readers Digest has found this to be true.
- Close your body copy with a call to action and contact details.
- Don’t name your organisation with initials, few will recognise them or understand them.
- It pays to create an image of quality to project that you know more than others.
- Descriptive product names (such as BAND-AID) restrict the potential for them to grow with additional offerings, known in marketing as “brand extensions”.
- Use your brand name in your headlines as most who see the advertising will not know what you are advertising.