Ogilvy on Advertising by David Ogilvy: Notes14 min read

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Ogilvy on Advertising by David Ogilvy

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Ogilvy on Advertising summary

Ogilvy on Advertising Summary

Chapter 1: Overture

“When I write an advertisement, I don’t want you to tell me that you find it ‘creative.’ I want you to find it so interesting that you buy the product.”

“Consumers still buy products whose advertising promises them value for money, beauty, nutrition, relief from suffering, social status and so on. All over the world.”

Chapter 2: How to Produce Advertising That Sells

“You don’t stand a tinker’s chance of producing successful advertising unless you start by doing your homework.”

When doing your homework, study the product you are going to advertise, first. The more you know about the product you are going to advertise, the more likely you are to come up with a big idea for selling it.

Then, research what kind of advertising your competitors have been doing for similar products, and with what success. This will give you your bearings.

Finally, research your consumers. Find out how they think about your kind of product, what language they use when they discuss the subject, what attributes are important to them, and what promise would be most likely to make them buy your brand.

Ogilvy’s own definition of positioning is ‘what the product does, and who it is for.’

“Doyle Dane Bernbach created one of the most powerful campaigns in the history of advertising. ‘When you’re only Number 2, you try harder. Or else.’ This diabolical positioning made life miserable for Hertz, who was Number 1.”

“Image means personality.”

“When you choose a brand of whiskey you are choosing an image. Jack Daniel’s advertisements project an image of homespun honesty and thereby persuade you that Jack Daniel’s is worth its premium price.”

“It takes a big idea to attract the attention of consumers and get them to buy your product. Unless your advertising contains a big idea, it will pass like a ship in the night.”

“I am supposed to be one of the more fertile inventors of big ideas, but in my long career as a copywriter I have not had more than 20, if that.”

“Big ideas come from the unconscious. But your unconscious has to be well informed, or your idea will be irrelevant.”

It will help you recognize a big idea if you ask yourself five questions:

Did it make me gasp when I first saw it?

Do I wish I had thought of it myself?

Is it unique?

Does it fit the strategy to perfection?

Could it be used for 30 years?

“Sometimes, the best idea of all is to show the product—with utter simplicity. This takes courage, because you will be accused of not being ‘creative.’”

“Whenever you can, make the product itself the hero of your advertising.”

“There are no dull products, only dull writers.”

“If you and your competitors all make excellent products, don’t try to imply that your product is better. Just say what’s good about your product—and do a clearer, more honest, more informative job of saying it.”

“You aren’t advertising to a standing army; you are advertising to a moving parade.”

Leo Burnett once said, “When you reach for the stars, you may not quite get one, but you won’t come up with a handful of mud either.”

“If it doesn’t sell, it isn’t creative.”

“Advertising reflects the mores of society, but does not influence them.”

Chapter 3: Jobs in Advertising—And How to Get Them

“‘Most good copywriters’, says William Maynard of the Bates agency, fall into two categories. Poets. And killers. Poets see an ad as an end. Killers as a means to an end.’ If you are both killer and poet, you get rich.”

Chapter 4: How to Run an Advertising Agency

“When people aren’t having any fun, they don’t produce good advertising.”

When new hires were appointed to head an office in the Ogilvy & Mather chain, Ogilvy gave them a Russian doll. Inside the smallest was this message: “If each of us hires people who are smaller than we are, we shall become a company of dwarfs, but if each of us hires people who are bigger than we are, Ogilvy & Mather will become a company of giants.”

Chapter 5: How to Get Clients

“The easiest way to get new clients is to do good advertising.”

“Tell your prospective client what your weak points are, before he notices them. This will make you more credible when you boast about your strong points.”

“The day after a new business presentation, send the prospect a three-page letter summarizing the reasons why he should pick your agency. This will help him make the right decision.”

“Avoid clients whose ethos is incompatible with yours.”

“Erosion of morale does unacceptable damage to an agency.”

“If you get an account which also advertises in overseas markets, you stand a good chance of getting it around the world. I call this the domino system of new business acquisition.”

Chapter 6: Open Letter to a Client in Search of an Agency

“Don’t keep a dog and bark yourself Any fool can write a bad advertisement, but it takes a genius to keep his hands off a good one.”

Chapter 7: Wanted—A Renaissance in Print Advertising

“On the average, five times as many people read the headlines as read the body copy.”

“It follows that unless your headline sells your product, you have wasted 90 percent of your money.”

“The headlines which work best are those which promise the reader a benefit”

“Headlines of ten words sell more merchandise than short headlines.”

“Headlines that offer the reader helpful information, like ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’, attract above-average readership.”

“I advise you to include the brand name in your headline. If you don’t, 80 percent of readers (who don’t read your body copy) will never know what product you are advertising.”

“If you are advertising a kind of product which is only bought by a small group of people, put a word in your headline which will flag them down, like asthma, bedwetters, women over thirty-five.”

“If you need a long headline, go ahead and write one, and if you want a short headline, that’s all right too.”

“When you advertise in local newspapers, you get better results if you include the name of each city in your headline. People are mostly interested in what is happening where they live.”

“On the average, long headlines sell more merchandise than short ones. This one-word headline is the exception that proves the rule.”

“Specifics are more credible and more memorable than generalities.”

“When you put your headline in quotes, you increase recall by an average of 28 percent.”

“I am the only copywriter who has literally bled for his client.”

“When people read your copy, they are alone. Pretend you are writing each of them a letter on behalf of your client. One human being to another, second person singular.”

“You cannot bore people into buying your product. You can only interest them in buying it.”

“It pays to write short sentences and short paragraphs, and to avoid difficult words.”

“Copy should be written in the language people use in everyday conversation.”

“Tell your reader what your product will do for him or her, and tell it with specifics.”

“Write your copy in the form of a story, as in the advertisement which carried the headline, ‘The amazing story of a Zippo that worked after being taken from the belly of a fish.’”

“Avoid analogies.”

“Stay away from superlatives like ‘Our product is the best in the world.’ Gallup calls this Brag and Boast. It convinces nobody.”

“If you include a testimonial in your copy, you make it more credible.”

“Always try to include the price of your products.”

“When the price of the product is left out, people have a way of turning the page.”

“All my experience says that for a great many products, long copy sells more than short.”

“I believe, without any research to support me, that advertisements with long copy convey the impression that you have something important to say, whether people read the copy or not.”

“Dr. Charles Edwards concluded that ‘the more facts you tell, the more you sell.’”

“On the average, headlines below the illustration are read by 10 percent more people than headlines above the illustration.”

“More people read the captions under illustrations than read the body copy, so never use an illustration without putting a caption under it. Your caption should include the brand name and the promise.”

“Your poster should deliver your selling promise not only in words, but also pictorially. Use the largest possible type. Make your brand name visible at a long distance. Use strong, pure colors. Never use more than three elements in your design.”

Chapter 8: How to Make TV Commercials That Sell

Sixteen Tips:

Brand identification

Show the package

Food in motion

Close Ups

Open with the fire

When you have nothing to say, sing it

Sound effects

Voice-over on camera?


Avoid visual banality

Change of scene


Show the product in use

Everything is possible on TV


The great scandal

Here are two ways to register your brand name:

Use the name within the first ten seconds.

Play games with the name. Spell it.

“When you advertise a new product, you have to teach people its name on television.”

“Commercials which end by showing the package are more effective in changing brand preference than commercials which don’t.”

“In commercials for food, the more appetizing you make it look, the more you sell.”

“It is a good thing to use close-ups when your product is the hero of your commercial.”

“If you grab attention in the first frame with a visual surprise, you stand a better chance of holding the viewer.”

“When you advertise fire-extinguishers, open with the fire.”

“Never use a jingle without trying it on people who have not read your script. If they cannot decipher the words, don’t put your jingle on the air.”

“While music does not add to the selling power of commercials, sound effects—such as sausages sizzling in a frying-pan—can make a positive difference.”

“Research shows that it is more difficult to hold your audience if you use voice-over. It is better to have the actors talk on camera.”

“It pays to reinforce your promise by setting it in type and superimposing it over the video, while your soundtrack speaks the words. But make sure that the words in your supers are exactly the same as your spoken words.”

“If you want the viewer to pay attention to your commercial, show her something she has never seen before.”

“On the average, commercials with a plethora of short scenes are below average in changing brand preference.”

“It pays to show the product being used, and, if possible, the end-result of using it.”

“The technicians can produce anything you want. The only limit is your imagination.”

“If you want to avoid your television commercials being misunderstood, you had better make them crystal clear.”

“The easiest way to reduce the cost of a commercial is to cut actors out of the storyboard.”

A pilot study Ogilvy commissioned suggests four positive factors to radio advertising:

Identify your brand early in the commercial.

Identify it often.

Promise the listener a benefit early in the commercial.

Repeat it often.

Chapter 9: Advertising Corporations

“Opinion Research Corporation has found that people who know a company well are five times more likely to have a favorable opinion of it.”

“Advertising whose purpose is to influence public opinion is more likely to be successful if it follows these principles: If the issue is complicated, and it almost always is, simplify it as much as you reasonably can.”

“Present your case in terms of the reader’s self-interest.”

Chapter 10: How to Advertise Foreign Travel

“People dream about visiting foreign countries. The job of your advertising is to convert their dreams into action. This can best be done by combining mouth-watering photographs with specific how-to-do-it information.”

“When you are advertising little-known countries, it is particularly important to give people a lot of information.”

“I believe that charm works well in tourism advertising. And differentiation.”

Chapter 11: The Secrets of Success in Business-to-Business Advertising

“An effective strategy in business advertising is to show the reader how he can calculate the money your product would save him.”

Chapter 12: Direct Mail, My First Love and Secret Weapon

“The more people trust you, the more they buy from you.”

Chapter 13: Advertising for Good Causes

“It is difficult to persuade people to give money to a charity unless they know something about it.”

Chapter 14: Competing with Procter & Gamble

“The best of all ways to beat P&G is, of course, to market a better product.”

Chapter 15: 18 Miracles of Research

“Advertising which promises no benefit to the consumer does not sell, yet the majority of campaigns contain no promise whatever. (That is the most important sentence in this book. Read it again.)”

“Sometimes you will find that the promise which wins your test is already being used by one of your competitors. Poor you.”

Chapter 16: What Little I Know About Marketing

“The manufacturer who finds himself up the creek is the short-sighted opportunist who siphons off all his advertising dollars for short-term promotions.”

Chapter 17: Is America Still Top Nation?

“I would give my right arm to have made the nostalgic commercials for Hovis bread.”

Chapter 18: Lasker, Resor, Rubicam, Burnett, Hopkins, and Bernbach

“Lasker held that if an agency could write copy which sold the product, nothing else was needed.”

“Lasker used to say, “I make my men so good that I can’t keep ’em”.”

“The secret of [Stanley Resor’s] success was his ability to attract exceptionally able men, and to treat them with so much respect that they never left.”

“[Raymond] Rubicam used to say, “The way we sell is to get read first”.”

“Without any doubt, Leo [Burnett]’s greatest monument is his campaign for Marlboro.”

“Nobody should be allowed to have anything to do with advertising until he has read [Scientific Advertising] book seven times. It changed the course of my life.”

“[Claude] Hopkins was interested in nothing but advertising.”

“I am told that [Bill Bernbach] used to carry a card which bore the self-admonition Maybe he’s right.”

Chapter 19: What’s Wrong with Advertising?

“There is one category of advertising which is totally uncontrolled and flagrantly dishonest: the television commercials for candidates in Presidential elections.”

“In a period when television commercials are often the decisive factor in deciding who shall be the next President of the United States, dishonest advertising is as evil as stuffing the ballot box.”

“The best way to increase the sale of a product is to improve the product.”

Chapter 20: I Predict 13 Changes

“The quality of research will improve, and this will generate a bigger corpus of knowledge as to what works and what doesn’t.”

“There will be a renaissance in print advertising.”

“Advertising will contain more information and less hot air.”

“Billboards will be abolished.”

“The clutter of commercials on television and radio will be brought under control.”

“There will be a vast increase in the use of advertising by governments for purposes of education, particularly health education.”

“Advertising will play a part in bringing the population explosion under control.”

“Candidates for political office will stop using dishonest advertising.”

“The quality and efficiency of advertising overseas will continue to improve—at an accelerating rate.”

“Several foreign agencies will open offices in the United States, and will prosper.”

“Multinational manufacturers will increase their market-shares all over the non-Communist world, and will market more of their brands internationally.”

“Direct-response advertising will cease to be a separate speciality, and will be folded into the ‘general’ agencies.”

“Ways will be found to produce effective television commercials at a more sensible cost.”

Recommended Resources

Scientific Advertising by Claude Hopkins.

Tested Advertising Methods by John Caples.

Reality in Advertising by Rosser Reeves.

Madison Avenue by Martin Mayer.

Confessions of an Advertising Man by David Ogilvy.

New Advertising: Twenty-One Successful Campaigns from Avis to Volkswagen by Robert Glatzer.

The 100 Greatest Advertisements by Julian Watkins.

The Art of Writing Advertising by Denis Higgins.

How to Advertise by Kenneth Roman and Jane Maas.

Advertising Inside Out by Philip Kleinman.

Successful Direct Marketing Methods by Bob Stone.

Or Your Money Back by Alvin Eicoff

The Art of Plain Talk by Rudolph Flesch

Writing That Works by Kenneth Roman and Joel Raphaelson.

The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E B White.

Thirty Seconds by Michael Arlen.

Speech Can Change Your Life by Dorothy Sarnoff

The Duping of The American Voter: Dishonesty and Deception in Presidential Television Advertising by Robert Spero

Obvious Adams by Robert Updegraff.

Recommended Reading

If you like Ogilvy on Advertising, you may also enjoy the following books:

Positioning by Al Ries and Jack Trout

The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Al Ries and Jack Trout

The Ultimate Sales Letter by Dan Kennedy

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